This article was originally published in the Coalfield Progress on 03/17/2019
The bill would also protect healthcare coverage for 500 Virginia miners who are at risk of losing their benefits due to the 2018 bankruptcy of Westmoreland Coal Co., which operated in Wise County and had been a leading employer here for decades.
Currently, the 1974 UMWA Pension Plan is on the road to insolvency due to coal company bankruptcies and the 2008 financial crisis. Warner said the American Miners Act would shore up the pension plan to make sure that 87,000 current beneficiaries and an additional 20,000 retirees who have vested won’t lose the pensions they have paid into for decades, Warner's office said. In Virginia alone, there are approximately 7,000 pensioners who are at risk of losing their benefits if Congress does not act.
In May 2017, Warner worked with several colleagues to pass bipartisan legislation to protect healthcare for retired miners — including more than 10,000 miners and their families in Virginia — who were orphaned by coal bankruptcies. But the recent Westmoreland bankruptcy has endangered health care benefits for additional miners and dependents — including 500 people in Virginia. This legislation will extend the fix to ensure that miners who are at risk due to 2018 coal company bankruptcies will not lose their healthcare.
Lastly, the bill also calls for an extension of the tax that finances medical treatment and basic expenses for miners suffering from black lung. The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund is supported by an excise tax on mined coal that was cut in half at the end of 2018. The American Miners Act of 2019 would restore the tax to previous levels for 10 years.
Locally, the Virginia Coal and Energy Alliance had supported the cut and advocated against an extension.