Times West Virginian: Miners Protection Act would keep promise, provide $3.1 billion bonus

How do you put a price on a promise?

Well, a savings worth $3.1 billion over the next 10 years isn’t too shabby. That’s how much the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the nation will save by protecting health care and pension benefits for about 120,000 retired coal miners.

As efforts ramp up to pass the Miners Protection Act (MPA), which will prevent thousands of families from losing benefits, the CBO says the bill would increase spending on health care and pension benefits for unionized miners and their widows by about $3 billion over the next 10 years. But that cost would be offset by nearly $3.1 billion in new revenue generated by hiking customs fees on imported goods.

Supporters of the bill say that it fulfills a 70-year-old promise made under the direction of President Harry Truman. This agreement constituted a federal guarantee of the health and retirement benefits of coal miners and created a multi-employer health and retirement system for coal miners and dependents.

“This bill is simple — it is the continuation of a longstanding commitment by our government to lifetime health and retirement benefits for our miners,” reads a letter signed by 22 senators urging swift passage of the bill. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia are leading the charge and are supported by 15 Democrats and seven Republicans.

Support from Senate Democrats is solid, as is the support of several Republican senators who support the bill during their re-election campaigns, including Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is among those who are wary of “bailing out” unions.

But let us underline the point that we do not believe the union is being “bailed out.” It’s legislation that would ensure that the federal government and coal operators honor pension and health benefits agreements to retired miners and their families. That’s more important than ever considering the industry’s decline and the bankruptcies of several companies over the years. Without this federal intervention, some funds will be completely out of cash by the end of the year.

And honestly, those miners who spent their careers mining coal to keep the lights on throughout the nation deserve more than just a shrug.

According to information provided by Manchin’s office, the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan was well-managed and funded before the 2008 financial crisis during the highest payout period.

“Sixty percent of the beneficiaries are ‘orphan’ retirees whose employers are no longer in the coal business, and the fact that there are only 10,000 active workers for 120,000 retirees – has placed the plan on the road to insolvency. If the plan becomes insolvent, these beneficiaries face benefit cuts and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation will assume billions of dollars in liabilities,” Manchin’s office reports.

So, a $3.1 billion savings or billions in liabilities? That’s not much of a question.

Should the nation keep a promise made in 1946 to miners? That’s not much of a question either, even without the billions in savings.

We urge the swift passage of the Miners Protection Act.

Source: Times West Virginian