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Ohio, West Virginia Legislators Fight for Retired Miner Pensions

Republicans and Democrats representing West Virginia and Ohio continue working to prevent up to 120,000 retired coal miners and their dependents from losing their pensions and health benefits.

Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., now believe Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, will allow a vote on the Miners Protection Act before October.

“I’ve said all along: If we’re going to help Puerto Rico, we should also be helping the 90,000 coal miners in Ohio and West Virginia who need help as well,” Portman said regarding legislation recently passed to help the territory avoid default on its $70 billion worth of debt.

Although Portman estimates the number of retirees at risk at 90,000, Manchin said the number is closer to 120,000. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that 60 percent of these pensioners worked for companies that are no longer in business, Manchin said.

The United Mine Workers Of America 1974 pension plan was nearly fully funded prior to the  2008 economic recession. Declining coal demand since then has led to several large coal company bankruptcies, including Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, Alpha Natural Resources and Patriot Coal.

“By the end of this year, tens of thousands of miners will lose their health benefits — the health benefits they earned through a lifetime of hard work,” Manchin said. “Although I am happy we have secured a vote, we now must work to make this vital legislation law to make sure that our miners never receive those notices.”

If the UMWA pension fund fails, the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. would assume the responsibility of making payments to miners and their dependents. However, Brown and Manchin are skeptical the PBGC could handle billions of dollars in new liabilities.

“Ohio coal miners earned these pensions for a lifetime of hard, often unsafe work and we must do everything we can to protect their benefits and health care,” Brown said.

Capito also said a vote on the act is vital to protect the retirees’ benefits.

“I am proud to be a leader in the fight to protect health and pension benefits for tens of thousands of the nation’s miners, including many in West Virginia,” she said.

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