MATEWAN, W.Va. — A May 1st deadline looms for the expiration of health benefits for United Mine Workers of America retirees if there is no Congressional action on the UMWA Health and Retirement Funds.
“I’m doing what we can to bring it to a vote,” reported U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Friday en route to Mingo County for an update meeting with coal miners at the UMWA Local 1440 site in Matewan.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has “made this into a fight that we should not have,” according to Manchin.
Since 2015, Manchin, U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and other members of West Virginia’s Congressional delegation have been pushing for the Miners Protection Act which, as proposed, would re-allocate money from the Abandoned Mine Lands Reclamation Fund to fund health benefits and shore up pension plans.
There’s been broad, bipartisan support for the measure in both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.
In December, Congress approved a temporary extension to the pension and benefits fund that runs through Apr. 30. The more than 22,000 affected people have already been notified of the pending end to benefits at that point via letters sent out in early March.
“You should not put these widows and these retirees (in a situation of) knowing from month to month that they might lose their healthcare benefits when we are going to fix it one way or another,” Manchin said on Friday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
“It will happen. I do think we’ll get the healthcare (benefits). I don’t think that Mitch in any way, shape or form wants to get the pension (benefits) and that’s a shame.”
Manchin said the entire package should be addressed immediately.
“We could fix it all right now and not come back. If not, we’re going to come back and have to work on pensions within a year or two and it’s going to be much more expensive because of the downward spiral we have going on,” he said.
“This is pure politics and it should not be played.”