Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Budget deal permanently guarantees health benefits for 23,000 retired coal miners or families

The deal in Congress to fund the government through September includes permanent funding of health benefits for retired coal miners.

About 23,000 former United Mine Workers of America miners or their widows were set to lose their health care and pensions at the end of April, because they had "lost permanent funding for those benefits during the bankruptcy reorganizations of companies like Peabody Energy, Patriot Coal and Alpha Natural Resources," reports Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette-Mail. "Health funds for more than 120,000 total retirees face the same threat down the road," Dylan Brown reported last month for Greenwire.

The health benefits "would be funded through part of an already statutorily mandated transfer of up to $490 million a year in general tax dollars that flow through the federal Abandoned Mine Lands program, as part of the complex formula that provides additional money for the abandoned-mine cleanup program and the UMW benefits plan," Ward reports. "As a budgetary offset . . . the bill extends certain customs user fees on goods that are brought into the United States," starting in 2026.

The federal role in coal miners' benefits stems from a 1946 deal that "helped end a stalemate between the union and the government, which had seized the nation’s mines in response to a strike," Ward notes. UMWA President Cecil E. Roberts said in a statement: "Swift passage of that bill by Congress this week will mean that those senior citizens and their families will finally have the peace of mind about their future that has eluded them for years."

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