Front Porch Blog

Congressional hearing highlights issues with black lung benefits program

Witnesses testify at a congressional hearing about black lung disease.

Black lung is a fatal, incurable disease that afflicts thousands of coal miners across the country. Medical research shows the rate of black lung cases is increasing, particularly in Appalachia, due to deadly silica dust. In 1969, Congress established the black lung program to provide medical and monetary benefits to coal miners who suffer from the disease. But the program is cumbersome and complex, and many miners have their claims denied despite doctors providing evidence they have severe black lung disease.

On Wednesday, senators on a Health, Education, Labor and Pensions subcommittee led by Sen. John Hickenlooper, D-Colorado, held a hearing and listened to testimony from miner advocates and experts on mine safety and the black lung benefits program. United Mine Workers of America president Cecil Roberts and Dr. Drew Harris, medical director of the Black Lung Program at Stone Mountain Health Services, raised three important points:

  • The rates of severe black lung are at near-historic highs in Central Appalachia.
  • The black lung system is unfair to coal miners, who have to fight tooth and nail when they’re applying for benefits, often without legal representation.
  • The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act can help address unfairness in the black lung program, and Congress should take action.

The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act (S. 3304, H.R. 6461) would increase access to legal representation for coal miners. It also would expand the use of CT scans to help coal miners prove they have complicated black lung. The act would also ensure the monthly black lung stipend coal miners and their families receive would get a fair cost-of-living adjustment every year.

Roberts noted in his testimony “[y]ou shouldn’t have to live on seven hundred and some dollars while you’re dying. It’s unfair and it needs to be made more fair.”

The act has been introduced several times over the years but has yet to advance out of the Senate committee.

You can watch the full hearing below:

Now residing in Charleston, West Virginia, Quenton is originally from the state’s eastern panhandle. He earned his bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University and his Master of Public Health from Columbia University in 2019, where he did a summer fellowship at Appalachian Voices.


  1. Adam Banig says:

    Thank you Quenton. It was great seeing you at the hearing again. I look forward to working with you on these issues and others in the future.

  2. X23Fer says:

    Hey people!!!!!
    Good mood and good luck to everyone!!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Facebook Twitter Instagram Youtube