Press Releases

 WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), and John Fetterman (D-PA) reintroduced legislation to support family members of miners who have passed away due to black lung disease. Currently bureaucratic requirements place unnecessarily strict burdens of proof on survivors in order to access the benefits to which they are entitled. The Relief for Survivors of Miners Act would ease restrictions to make it easier for miners’ survivors to successfully claim benefits.

“The last thing grieving families in Virginia’s mining communities should have to worry about is whether or not they’ll be able to put food on the table or a roof over their heads,” said Sen. Warner. “But too often survivors of miners who have lost their lives to black lung are denied benefits they deserve because of unfair and unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles. The Relief for Survivors of Miners Act will alleviate this burden for families going through the worst time in their lives.”

“Virginia’s mining communities have made tremendous sacrifices to power our nation, and the families of miners who lost their lives to black lung disease deserve our support,” said Sen. Kaine. “This bill is critical to removing unnecessary red tape that has prevented families from accessing benefits and expanding resources to help families secure the support they need.”

“For generations, our brave miners and their families have made immense sacrifices to power West Virginia and America to greatness. Far too often, the surviving family members of coal miners lost to Black Lung disease face difficulties in securing the benefits they are entitled to,” said Sen. Manchin. “I’m proud to reintroduce the Relief for Survivors of Miners Act, which will help cut through the bureaucratic red tape that can delay access to these benefits, as well as improve access to legal representation for miners and their survivors. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to help pass this commonsense legislation that supports our coal miners and their families who have given so much to our nation.”

“Ohio miners have put their health at risk for years to power our country – and, unfortunately, too many of those miners have lost their lives because of black lung disease, leaving loved ones to worry about how they’ll be able to make ends meet,” said Sen. Brown. “The Relief for Survivors of Miners Act will ensure these miners’ families don’t have to navigate an interminable claims process just to get the benefits they have earned.”

“For decades, our country has relied on coal miners to power our factories and heat our homes. Many coal workers risked their lives and their long-term health to do the job of powering years of prosperity and Congress has an obligation to support them, just as they’ve supported us,” said Sen. Casey. “The Relief for Survivors of Miners will ease access to benefits and support services for the families of miners that have passed away from illnesses linked to their time in the mines. Coal miners have pushed our country forward, and I’ll keep fighting to make sure they and their families aren’t left behind.”

“When the families of coal miners are dealing with the pain and grief of losing someone, the last thing we should ask them to deal with is red tape and bureaucracy,” said Sen. Fetterman. “Coal miners do dangerous and important work, with a real risk of black lung and other serious health impacts. Survivors deserve to receive their benefits as quickly and easily as possible, and that’s what this bill would do.”

The Black Lung Benefits Act (BLBA), passed in 1976, provides monthly benefits to eligible surviving family members of coal miners whose deaths were due to black lung – a disease caused and exacerbated by long-term inhalation of coal dust. These benefits are either paid for by coal mining companies or the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. Currently, due to restrictions associated with the Black Lung Benefits Program, survivors must establish that black lung was a substantial contributing cause of death – a burden of proof that is often difficult to meet since autopsy reports may not specifically cite black lung, and instead reference related conditions.

Specifically, the legislation would:

  • Re-establish a rebuttable presumption that a miner’s death was due to black lung if they were disabled due to pneumoconiosis at the time of death;
  • Improve access to legal representation for miners and survivors of miners to ensure that individuals are not unable to secure benefits due to a lack of financial resources.

The legislation also:

  • Requests that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) provide a report to Congress on the financial impact of recouping interim Department of Labor payments in order to determine the financial impact of black lung benefits and interim payments on black lung beneficiaries and the government;
  • Requests that GAO look at other ways to improve the black lung benefits claims process for survivors of miners.

The Senators have actively worked to ensure better treatment of miners and their families. Earlier this year, the senators urged the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to evaluate the adequacy of black lung benefits to ensure they meet the income and health care needs of disabled miners and their families.  Last year, Sens. Warner, Kaine, Casey, Brown, and Manchin introduced The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act, legislation to make needed updates to the Black Lung Benefits Act to ensure Congress is fulfilling its commitment to the nation’s coal miners. To help fulfill those promises, in August of 2022, Congress approved a permanent extension of the black lung excise tax to fund the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund (BLDTF) that provides health insurance and a living stipend for those impacted by black lung as part of the Inflation Reduction Act.

“In addition to the many emotional and legal challenges a family is faced with when a loved one passes away, widows and survivors of miners who die from black lung disease are also faced with the burden of continuing to navigate the complicated and stressful black lung benefits process. This bill will help make the claims process more accessible to these families and we're grateful for Senator Warner's leadership on this issue,” said Rebecca Shelton, Director of Policy, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center.

“When a miner dies, their families are left not only grieving and planning a funeral, but they also often lose the benefits they relied on for groceries and paying the bills. The Relief for Survivors of Miners Act will make their lives a little easier, and help to make sure that families are not left in poverty after their loved ones die,” said Vonda Robinson, Vice President of the National Black Lung Association.

“As Appalachia experiences a resurgence in black lung disease, the process for accessing the crucial benefits promised to miners and their families remains excruciatingly difficult. We applaud Senator Warner's leadership to help ensure that the families of miners who have died from black lung can still access those benefits,” said Quenton King, Federal Legislative Specialist, Appalachian Voices.

“The UMWA has been at the forefront of battling black lung disease for more than fifty years. Enacted by Congress in 1969 as part of the Federal Mine Health and Safety Act, the black lung benefits system has been helpful to thousands of miners and their families. But more needs to be done. The cost of living has dramatically increased since 1969, miners are contracting the disease at younger ages and there are more severe forms of the disease. Senator Warner’s , ‘Relief for Survivors of Miners Act’ would eases burdens families of deceased miners face claiming black lung benefits so these families receive the benefits they deserve,” said Cecil E. Roberts, International President of the United Mine workers of America.

A copy of the bill text is available here