Bills Support Miners’ Pensions, Black Lung Benefits

As of early December, a number of bills aimed at supporting communities impacted by coal mining awaited congressional action.

Following Murray Energy’s October bankruptcy announcement, it became more urgent for lawmakers to find a fix for the struggling United Mine Workers of America pension fund, as it appeared the fund would become insolvent in 2020. In November, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reversed course and announced his support of a bill to protect miners’ pensions — S.2788, the Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019.

The Senate bill, along with a companion bill in the House, would extend the transfer of interest from the federal Abandoned Mine Land fund to cover miners’ pensions and would include the tens of thousands of employees affected by 2018 and 2019 coal company bankruptcies. Once the interest on the AML fund is exhausted, the pensions would draw from the general treasury.

Unlike an earlier version, the pension bill supported by McConnell would not restore full funding to the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which provides healthcare and benefits to miners with black lung disease and their survivors. The tax on coal companies that supports the federal black lung benefits fund was cut in half at the end of 2018. But a bill in the House — H.R.3876, the Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Solvency Act — would restore that tax through 2029 to ensure that money is available to help miners with the deadly occupational disease. — By Molly Moore

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