04.17.17

WV Delegation, UMWA President Urge Congressional Leadership to Include Permanent Solution for Miners’ Benefits in Government Funding Resolution

WASHINGTON, D.C. U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), U.S. Representatives David McKinley, Alex Mooney, Evan Jenkins and Cecil Roberts, President of United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urging them to include a permanent solution for the miners’ benefits in the government funding bill that Congress will consider next week. The Miners Protection Act is a bipartisan, bicameral bill that honors the promise of healthcare and retirement benefits to retired miners and their families who are facing uncertainty as a result of the financial crisis and corporate bankruptcies.

They said in part: “The Miners Protection Act is a responsible, bipartisan solution to an immediate problem that is fully offset and has gone through regular order. As Congress considers a continuing resolution to keep the government running, we fully expect that such a vehicle will include the permanent health care fix for our nation’s retired miners as promised at the end of 2016 and proposed in the Miners Protection Act. Anything less is merely an extension of the ongoing uncertainty and agony that these men and women have been carrying for years. Anything less is an unacceptable and tragic failure of this body to keep its word to the men and women who powered our nation to prosperity at the risk of their own health and lives.” 

Read the full letter below:

Dear Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Ryan, and Leader Pelosi,

As you know, at the expiration of the current continuing resolution, 22,600 of our nation’s retired coal miners will lose their healthcare benefits. In March, these miners received letters notifying them of this impending termination and, sadly, it is not the first such letter they have received. In West Virginia alone, almost 8,500 men and women will suffer the anguish and fear that comes with the loss of these life-saving benefits.

While the continuing resolution included a four-month extension of benefits, it did so using remaining funds in the existing Voluntary Employee’s Beneficiary Association (VEBA) plans. The “extension” was essentially a transfer of funds already belonging to these miners. In fact, it shortened the timeline for 6,500 of these miners who would have otherwise received healthcare benefits through July. Additionally, the pension fund that these miners and their widows rely on for life’s basic necessities will reach the point of no return this year if Congress does not act to shore it up.

This bill is simple – it is the continuation of a longstanding commitment by our government to lifetime health and retirement benefits for our miners. The Krug-Lewis Agreement was signed in 1946 at the White House in front of President Truman by UMWA president John L. Lewis and Secretary of the Interior Julius Krug. While the agreement itself was not drafted in perpetuity, Congress essentially codified the promises made in that agreement by subsequently passing the Coal Act

The Coal Act and its 2006 amendments re-committed the government to the health and retirement security of our nation’s miners and their families.  In fact, prior to passage of the 1992 Coal Act, the Dole Commission (appointed by President George H.W. Bush) issued a report stating that, “The UMWA Health and Retirement Funds is as much a creature of government as it is of collective bargaining. There is a line running from the original Boone Report to the present system. In a way, the original Krug-Lewis agreement predisposed, if not predetermined, the system that evolved.”

The Miners Protection Act is a responsible, bipartisan solution to an immediate problem that is fully offset and has gone through regular order. As Congress considers a continuing resolution to keep the government running, we fully expect that such a vehicle will include the permanent health care fix for our nation’s retired miners as promised at the end of 2016 and proposed in the Miners Protection Act.

Anything less is merely an extension of the ongoing uncertainty and agony that these men and women have been carrying for years. Anything less is an unacceptable and tragic failure of this body to keep its word to the men and women who powered our nation to prosperity at the risk of their own health and lives. 

This nation was built on the backs of our workers.  Let us not forsake them.  We implore you to immediately pass a permanent health care fix for the miners and commit to working with us to finding and passing a solution for the imperiled 1974 Pension Fund. 

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