Keeping a Promise to Coal Miners
Two weeks ago, we finally passed a permanent fix that secured health care for more than 8,400 retired miners in West Virginia. Although this in itself is a huge victory, we’re still only halfway there to keeping the promise made to coal miners 70 years ago. Now, more than 1,600 retired miners’ pensions are on the line in Ohio, Brooke, Hancock, Marshall, Wetzel and Tyler Counties. We cannot waste any more time and that’s why I introduced the Miners Pension Protection Act last week, to secure the pensions that these miners have earned and paid for over a lifetime of backbreaking and dangerous work.
Seventy years ago, President Harry Truman recognized the importance of the coal that our miners produced for this country and promised that the government would guarantee our brave coal miners’ benefits in return for their service. In turn, our coal miners propelled the American economy, ushered in decades of economic growth, started an energy boom that made the U.S. a superpower, and helped our nation to victory in two World Wars. This agreement was a sacred promise between worker and country, and it captured the very best of America.
Just as I did to secure permanent health care, the Miners Pension Protection Act will be my highest priority and I will bring everyone together to get this done. I will be working with the West Virginia delegation, my Senate colleagues and the administration to pass this important legislation. And I will continue to stress how important these modest pensions are to our coal miners in my conversations with President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence. As we are working to pass the Miners Pension Protection Act, I know our retired miners will work with us just as hard as they did when their health care was going to be ripped away from them. The strength, energy and openness they displayed made the difference in getting a permanent health care fix and we couldn’t have done it without them sharing their deeply personal stories with lawmakers.
Securing these health care benefits demonstrates what Congress can do when we work together and put partisan politics aside. It’s a philosophy that I have followed throughout my life in public service — in the West Virginia State Legislature, as your governor, and now as your U.S. senator. Members of Congress are here for one reason: to do what is right on behalf of the people we represent. West Virginia coal miners are among the hardest working people in America, and they have dedicated their lives to powering this nation and keeping it the strongest in the world. While we have more work to do to protect the pensions our miners earned, they will never again have to worry about their health care.
We cannot allow for the issue of their pensions to be put off until the deadline only to kick the can down the road with a temporary extension. Our retired miners deserve better than to receive letters notifying them that they will no longer receive their modest pension, which many count on for survival.
For most of these retired miners, their pension is the difference between paying the bills or being kicked out of their home, putting food on their tables or going hungry. I know my colleagues will stick by them this time just like they did with healthcare and I look forward to working with them to finally keep our full promise.