Some retired coal miners in West Virginia and Virginia could lose their health care benefits by the year’s end if Congress does not act upon the American Miner’s Act, a necessary measure backed by the region’s congressional delegation in Washington. 

The Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019 was reintroduced in the U.S. Senate this month by U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., U.S. Senator Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and U.S Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. It is also co-sponsored by U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., and U.S. Senator Mark Warner, D-Va. 

The legislation seeks to secure the nation’s retired miners pensions by shoring up the 1974 Pension Plan, which is headed for insolvency due to coal company bankruptcies and the 2008 financial crisis, and ensuring that the miners who are at risk due to 2018 and 2019 coal company bankruptcies will not lose their health care, according to Manchin’s office.  

The Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019 will amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to transfer funds in excess of the amounts needed to meet existing obligations under the Abandoned Mine Land fund to the 1974 Pension Plan to prevent its insolvency.  

The legislation will also amend the Coal Act to include 2018 and 2019 bankruptcies in the miners’ health care fix that passed in 2017. These actions will secure the pensions of 92,000 coal miners and protect health care benefits for 13,000 miners.

Manchin warned earlier this month that 1,000 retirees of Westmoreland Coal Company, including 65 from West Virginia, would be cut off from their health care by Dec. 31 of this year if the American Miners Act isn’t passed by Congress.   

Adding further uncertainty for retired coal miners was last month’s announcement from Murray Energy, the biggest coal company in the country, that it is declaring bankruptcy. Manchin said the Murray Energy bankruptcy announcement means an additional 14,000 miners are at risk of losing their health care benefits.   

One thing is certain. Congress needs to do something — sooner than later — to protect the hard-earned pensions and health care of coal miners across the nation, including right here in southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia.  

Passage of the American Miners Act is the best way to avert this looming crisis.