Earlier this year, U.S. Senators. Joe Manchin, Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, Sherrod Brown and Bob Casey Jr. introduced the Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Act of 2021, which would extend the Black Lung Excise Tax for 10 years. The introduction of this bill came after months of organizing and advocacy by the Black Lung Association, along with supporters, including Appalachian Voices and Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center.
Now miners are asking their supporters to join the Black Lung Association in a call-in drive to ask U.S. Sen. Shelly Moore Capito to sign on as a co-sponsor of the bill.
To talk with Sen. Capito’s staff, call 347-767-2063. You will hear a brief message and then be connected to Capito’s office. Please be polite and tell the senator’s staff that you want her to co-sponsor the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund Act.
The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund pays for medical benefits and provides a small monthly living stipend to coal miners who are disabled by black lung disease, and to their surviving dependents, when the company responsible no longer exists or has gone bankrupt. Over $40 million in benefits was distributed to West Virginia families from the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund during 2020, and over $149 million was distributed nationally. Without congressional action, the excise tax will be cut in half at the end of the year.
“Everyone says how we need to support coal in West Virginia, but people don’t realize that they’re not really supporting miners, just the companies,” said Gary Hairston, president of the National Black Lung Association and of the Fayette County chapter. “We need everyone to know what black lung is putting us through, and that we need their backing.”
Currently, all the bill’s co-sponsors are Democrats from coal-producing states. As a Republican from West Virginia, Capito’s support would significantly improve the bill’s chance of passage.
“If Sen. Capito would join Sen. Manchin on this, it would let everybody know that this isn’t about one party,” said Hairston. “It’s something that the people of West Virginia really need. I’m really hoping they will get together on this.”
The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund has paid out more money than the Black Lung Excise Tax brings every year since it was established in 1978. Currently, the Trust Fund is about $4 billion in debt to the general treasury, meaning the much of the tab for miners’ black lung care and benefits is picked up by the average American taxpayer rather than the companies that are responsible for the disease.
“If we don’t get this bill passed, the debt will just keep on building up,” said Hairston, who worked for three decades in the mines before becoming disabled with black lung. “Sooner or later, the companies will be paying nothing and the taxpayer will have to pay everything. We need Sen. Capito to support the 10-year extension so that we don’t have to worry about if our benefits are going to keep being funded.”
“I’m grateful that my senators, Kaine and Warner, are supporting this legislation,” said Vonda Robinson, vice president of the National Black Lung Association, and the wife of a miner with black lung in Scott County, Virginia. “This issue affects all of us, no matter what state we live in. So we all need to call Sen.Capito and ask her to stand with us on this.”
To participate in the call-in effort, dial 347-767-2063. You will hear a brief message from the Black Lung Association, then be connected to Capito’s office. Please be polite and tell the senator’s staff that you want Capito to co-sponsor the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund Act.