Monday, March 06, 2017

Coal miners push for a fix to health care fund, which will be terminated at the end of April

Retired Kentucky coal miners headed to Washington last week to press Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, "to fix the health care fund for more than 22,000 United Mine Workers of America retirees nationwide," Curtis Tate reports for McClatchy Newspapers. Benefits are scheduled to be terminated at the end of April.

A pair of Senate bills were introduced in January. Ten senators from Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia "reintroduced the Miners Protection Act, which the Senate Finance Committee approved last year but which did not make it to the Senate floor," Tate wrote at the time. Also, McConnell introduced a similar bill, with language blaming President Obama for coal's decline.

Democratic Senators, led by West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, sent a letter dated Feb. 28 urging Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) "to tie a permanent fix, called the Miners Protection Act, to the nomination of Robert Lighthizer to be the U.S. trade representative," Tate writes. "Lighthizer’s nomination is awaiting Senate confirmation." The letter said, “Our miners did everything we asked of them, and it is time that we uphold our end of the bargain and provide them with the permanent benefits they earned through a lifetime of work."

Tate writes, "The committee approved the bipartisan bill last year, but McConnell never brought it to the Senate floor for a vote. While McConnell has offered his own bill to save the miners’ health benefits, Manchin’s bill also fixes a pension fund that even more retirees depend on. The pension and health care funds are on the brink because thousands of active union workers must support tens of thousands of retirees. Coal industry bankruptcies in recent years have reduced the contributions that coal companies are required to make to the funds."

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