Nearly 23,000 Coal Miners to Lose Benefits
Miners, families notified via letter
WHEELING –Almost 23,000 retired coal miners and their dependents on Wednesday received official notification that they could lose their health care benefits by April 30.
“This is causing tremendous mental and in some cases physical trauma to these senior citizens,” United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts said Wednesday. “They will now have to begin contemplating whether to continue to get medicines and treatments they need to live or to buy groceries. They will now have to wonder if they can go see a doctor for chronic conditions like black lung or cancer or pay the mortgage.”
For the last year, U.S. senators representing Ohio and West Virginia have worked to preserve health care coverage and pensions for retired coal miners. Roberts and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said the health care coverage was originally slated to expire at the end of 2016, but Congress passed a four-month extension at that time.
However, the time on this is now running short.
“Our retired miners’ health care and pension benefits are in jeopardy yet again as the Senate fails to act,” Manchin said Wednesday. “Since the passage of a four-month extension of this deadline to April, I have been working with everyone and from every angle in order to prevent our miners from losing their health care and retirement benefits. But, once again, they are facing a deadline that puts their whole livelihood at risk.”
Manchin, along with Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, continues pressing for passage of the Miners Protection Act, which they believe would solve much of the problem by re-directing funds to the UMWA pension plan. This 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.
Further complicating the problem is that new technologies allow coal companies to extract the mineral with far fewer employees than the process once required. This means the number of active miners paying into the union pension fund is minuscule compared to the number of retirees and their dependents collecting benefits from it.
In fact, senators estimate the number of active miners paying into the pension fund to be only 10,000, while there are 120,000 retirees drawing from it.
“Ohio coal miners have spent decades underground to power our country, provide for their families and retire with dignity. But the promise they were made for their backbreaking work is in jeopardy, and thousands nationwide will lose the benefits they earned in weeks,” Brown said. “We owe it to these miners and their families to pass this bipartisan legislation immediately to restore the full benefits they earned.”
Manchin and Brown said they will continue the fight for these health care benefits, while Roberts is calling for miners to keep lobbying politicians on the matter. Roberts said there are numerous members of both political parties willing to do their part to keep the health care in place.
“West Virginia’s miners worked hard in dangerous situations to power this country. I am fighting to protect their hard-earned health benefits,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., tweeted Wednesday.
Still, Roberts wants lawmakers to act, rather than talk.
“Will this be the first Congress in history to turn its back on these brave Americans? We have 60 days to find out,” Roberts said.