WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the following statement after the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which covers medical and living expenses for coal miners diagnosed with black lung disease, will be more than $15 billion in debt by 2050, putting coal miners’ benefits at risk.
“Black lung disease has had a devastating impact on coal miners and their families across Virginia. Since my time in the Senate, I have fought on their behalf to ensure they receive their rightfully owed compensation for this debilitating illness. We must ensure that we keep our promise to the thousands of coal miners suffering with black lung. Strengthening the system’s financing does that, without shifting the cost of these important payments onto taxpayers.”
The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund was established in 1978 to pay benefits to disabled miners suffering from black lung disease when the coal company responsible for paying benefits is bankrupt, closed or otherwise not able to pay. The Fund paid out $184 million in benefits last year to 25,700 coal miners suffering from the fatal mine dust disease, and their dependents. The Fund is supported by an excise tax on coal companies, but due to a variety of factors, the Fund has often had to borrow money from the U.S. Treasury in order to cover costs, leaving the Fund in the red by billions of dollars – a problem that will be exacerbated if Congress fails to take action by the end of this year, when the tax is set to be cut by more than half.
Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate for coal miners and their families. In 2017, Sen. Warner reintroduced the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act to ensure black lung claims are processed fairly and quickly, and he has pushed for more funding for black lung health clinics in Virginia. In December, he joined several of his colleagues in urging Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta to keep the Respirable Dust Rule to protect mine safety and miners health. Last year, Sen. Warner successfully fought to permanently protect more than 10,000 retired coal miners and their families in Virginia who were in danger of losing their health benefits. He has also introduced the American Miners Pension Act, which would protect the pensions of more than 7,000 retired Virginia coal miners who are in danger of losing their benefits if the 1974 UMWA Pension Plan becomes insolvent.