Friday, November 30, 2018

Coal miners urge Congress to extend black lung funding

 "Former Appalachian coal miners and supporters are in Washington this week to urge lawmakers to extend a tax that benefits miners sick with black-lung disease," Dylan Lovan reports for The Associated Press. "The excise tax paid by coal companies funds the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, but if Congress doesn’t act the tax will decrease by about 55 percent at the end of the year.
Calling it a matter of life and death, supporters said the fund could be halved without the extension."

The fund gives a medical expense card and benefits to black-lung patients and their dependents when a coal company appeals the miner's black-lung benefits award or when the company goes bankrupt (which means it no longer has to pay for such benefits). It paid about $184 million in benefits to more than 25,000 miners and dependents in 2017, Lovan reports.

House Republicans put a one-year extension of the tax into a tax bill released this week, but the miners in Washington to plead their case say it's a "band-aid." Former Kentucky miner Kenny Fleming, who has black-lung, told Lovan "it's a short-term solution to a long-term problem."

Black-lung rates have been rising in recent years, with the biggest increase and most severe cases in Appalachia, according to a study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Lovan reports.

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