WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told members of a bicameral pension committee that lawmakers must take appropriate actions to ensure the pensions of 1.5 million Americans are funded.
Manchin is one of 16 lawmakers who make up the bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Solvency of Multiemployer Pension Plans, which was created in the February law that ended the government shutdown. The joint committee — which met for the first time Wednesday — has until Nov. 30 to submit a report and legislation regarding how financial obligations can be met.
Among the 1.5 million retirees are 86,000 coal miners, in which approximately 26,000 of those are West Virginians.
Manchin said if Congress fails to pass legislation to fund pensions, the families of coal miners will be the first affected by the outcome.
“If we come down, the rest of it tumbles down with it,” he said.
Manchin said those receiving pensions are not to blame for the situation, adding the 2008 financial crisis and the bankruptcies of coal companies are the most recent events that put the solvency of these payments in danger.
“Your priorities should be based on your values,” Manchin said. “If you can’t take care of those who took care of us, if you can’t just basically protect the hard-earned rewards that these people have worked for and planned for, who are we?”
The committee is responsible for holding at least five public meetings, including three hearings. The meetings may be held outside of Washington, D.C. if the committee feels such action would be appropriate.
Congress passed funding last year to provide health care for retired coal miners and their families. Manchin and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., introduced a bill in May 2017 to fund the United Mine Workers of America Pension Plan using funds from the Abandoned Mine Land program.
Manchin and Capito joined Reps. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and Peter Welch, D-Vt., to announce the similar American Miners Pension Act. Reps. Alex Mooney and Evan Jenkins co-sponsored the legislation.