Press Release

Senators from Appalachian states request a federal study of whether black lung benefits are adequate

Sen. Mark Warner and others ask the Government Accountability Office to examine benefits provided by the Black Lung Benefits Act

March 6, 2023

Dan Radmacher, (540) 798-6683,

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A study by the Government Accountability Office looking at the adequacy of current black lung benefits for miners and their families requested by U.S. senators should bolster ongoing efforts to improve those benefits.

“Miners disabled by black lung and their families deserve more than what they are currently receiving — $738 per month even for those with total disability,” said Appalachian Voices Legislative Director Chelsea Barnes. “We believe this GAO study will show that black lung disability benefits should be significantly increased to meet the needs of miners who are no longer able to work and provide for their families as a result of this debilitating disease.”

The letter requesting the study notes that black lung — coal workers’ pneumoconiosis — has killed more than 76,000 miners since 1968. The fatal, incurable condition has disabled tens of thousands of miners. The Black Lung Benefits Act of 1972 provides benefits to miners diagnosed with black lung and their eligible survivors, but those benefits are not enough to make up for miners’ lost income — especially as more miners are contracting the disease at younger ages.

This letter — signed by Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, D-Virginia; Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Bob Casey and John Fetterman, D-Pennsylvania; and John Hickenlooper, D-Colorado — comes on the heels of a new study from the University of Illinois Chicago and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that coal miners have significantly increased odds of death from black lung, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer, and that these odds have worsened over time.

“We need a raise for our benefits because with so many young people getting this disease, they will struggle to take care of their families,” said Gary Hairston, President of the National Black Lung Association. “Even if you are just a one-person household, you struggle to live off just the few hundred we receive each month. We need our benefits to match the cost of living and we appreciate Sen. Warner’s constant support of coal miners with black lung.”

The senators asked the GAO to study what state and federal benefits are available, what challenges miners and their families face in obtaining them, how they help and what changes are needed.


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