Manchin, Capito, McKinley Push for Immediate Action on Coal Bills

WASHINGTON, DC. — Over 120,000 active and retired coal miners in the United States face loss of their healthcare benefits by the end of the year and loss of pension benefits next year without action in Congress.   West Virginia stands to be one of the hardest hit states if the House and Senate are unable to muster support for the Miners Protection Act and the Coal Healthcare and Pension Protections Acts now pending on Capitol Hill.

“If we can’t fulfill this commitment and promise to the people that basically helped us have the greatest country on earth then shame on us,” said U.S. Senator Joe Manchin speaking on the bi-partisan legislation before the National Press Club in Washington Wednesday. “Especially when it was enacted by Congress and signed by a President.”

The guaranteed miners’ pension and healthcare acts have a long history.  They were created separately dating back to 1946 when Congress acted to give benefits to union coal miners following World War II.  The guarantee was reaffirmed in 1993 and again in 2006.  However, those benefits are now jeopardized by the sharp downturn in coal production and the urgency is further fueled by the widespread bankruptcies of coal companies since 2008.

“If we don’t act in the next three months healthcare goes away for these folks,” said U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito during the Press Club event. “Many of them are widows.  Many of them are not in the best of health.  Many of them are still younger than you might think, but have worked 35 or 40 years in the mines.”

West Virginia has 11,147 beneficiaries facing a loss of healthcare benefits by the end of this year.    Without action by next year, the pension benefits of 27,694 retired miners and their widows in West Virginia are in jeopardy.   West Virginia’s numbers are more than twice that of Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Illinois, and Virginia all of whom will also see former miners and their families lose healthcare and pension benefits without action.

“We’re ground zero for this in West Virginia,” said Capito.

Capito and Manchin indicated they have communicated regularly with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is from the coal producing state of Kentucky.  They say they have received assurance he will allow the bill in for a vote provided it goes through the normal committee process.   The bill is in the Senate Finance Committee.  Representative David McKinley is helping to shepherd the bill in the House of Representatives.

“Our coal miners deserve attention today.” McKinley told the Press Club. “These coal miners are not just numbers or statistics. They are people who live next door to you, who sit next to you in church.We’ve got the tools, we’ve got the compromise. We’ve just got to find the will to get this legislation passed.”

The big concern however is time.

“I’m calling for immediate markup and passage.  I don’t think there’s another more important piece of legislation we have to deal with than that,” said Manchin. “All we’re asking for is compassion, but not only that but to do the right thing and fulfill the commitment and promise we made.   That’s what we expect to be done quickly.”

More than 10,000 members of the United Mine Workers of America are due to rally in Washington Wednesday in support of the acts.

By:  Chris Lawrence
Source: Metro News