Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), introduced a bill aimed towards helping the families of miners who have passed of black lung disease. The Relief for Survivors of Miners Act would help lift the burden off families who currently must provide proof that black lung was the substantial, contributing cause of death in order to access benefits.
The Bill would also ensure that miners and their families would have greater access to legal representation for their cases, as well as establishing a payment program for any attorneys’ fees and other medical expenses incurred while establishing their case. The program would also prevent the survivors of these miners from being turned away because of their income. Senator Manchin is joined by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) as cosponsors of the Bill.
The 1972 Black Lung Benefits Act provides monthly benefits to the surviving family members of coal miners who die from black lung disease. These benefits are paid for either by respective coal mining companies or the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. The United States Government of Accountability Office (GAO) estimated in January, 2020, that $865 million in black lung benefit responsibility has been transferred to the fund due to coal company bankruptcies, with the fund currently in debt of around $4 billion to the U.S. Treasury.
In December, 2020, Congress added a one-year extension to the Black Lung Excise Tax, which funds the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, to its 2021 Omnibus spending bill. This is the second year that a one-year extension has been included in the spending bill. The current Excise Tax of $1.10 per ton of underground coal and 55 cents for surface coal will expire at the end of this year.
The UMWA is currently working with members of Congress to ensure the long-term solvency of the Trust Fund, as well as securing the needed funding for a more extended amount of time. Thousands of miners and their families depend on the modest benefits provided by this fund. Miners with no beneficiaries often receive less than $9,000 annually, while those with three or more dependents receive less than $16,500 per year.
“Miners have given their health and livelihoods to provide the electricity and steel that made this nation the superpower of the world,” said President Roberts. “The very least we could do is ensure that the miners and families who depend on these benefits are free from worry about having them reduced or eliminated.”