West Virginia members lead bicameral letter calling for permanent miners’ benefits solution

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) led a bipartisan call on Monday for a permanent miners’ benefits solution to be included in a government funding resolution that will be considered next week.

A letter to leaders of the House and Senate calls for the inclusion of solutions outlined in the bicameral Miners Protection Act in the government funding bill to fulfill the promise of health care and retirement benefits to miners and their families who face uncertainty.

The downturn in the coal industry has forced major coal producers into bankruptcy, and a casualty of that coal decline has been the benefits of retired mine workers. The bankruptcies have led to a lack of security in health benefits and a sharp reduction in employee contributions to the pension plans of retirees.

“The Miners Protection Act is a responsible, bipartisan solution to an immediate problem that is fully offset and has gone through regular order,” the letter states. “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.”

Approximately 22,600 retired coal miners will lose health care benefits when the current continuing resolution expires without congressional action, and retirees received notice of impending termination of benefits in March.

The continuing resolution included a four-month extension of benefits for miners that used remaining funds in the existing Voluntary Employee’s Beneficiary Association plans.

“The ‘extension’ was essentially a transfer of funds already belonging to these miners,” the letter said. “In fact, it shortened the timeline for 6,500 of these miners who would have otherwise received health care 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.”

The Miners Protection Act, the letter continues, is a continuation of the government’s commitment to lifetime health and retirement for miners through the Krug-Lewis Agreement, which President Harry Truman signed in 1946.