WASHINGTON, D.C. — The American Miners Act of 2019 was once again up for discussion this week in the U.S. Senate.

The bill, Senate Bill 27 sponsored by Senator Joe Manchin D-W.Va., would amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to transfer certain funds to the 1974 United Mine Workers of America Pension Plan, and for other purposes.

U.S. Congress

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)

“Right now retired coal miners’ health care pensions and black lung benefits are on the chopping block again,” Manchin said on the floor Wednesday.

Currently, SB27 is in the Committee of Finance after going through two readings on the floor.

Manchin was referring to the 1,200 coal miners and dependents who may lose their healthcare coverage due to inadequate bankruptcy laws surrounding Westmoreland Mining Company. He said the court is expected to allow Westmoreland to shed their coal act liabilities and that unfortunately, it is happening again and again.

“They’ve worked for this,” Manchin said. “They’ve negotiated for this. They are not asking for a handout, they are asking to get what they paid for, what they negotiated for, what they didn’t take home to their families. We have to keep our promise that was signed into law in the Krug Lewis Agreement. This goes back to 1946.”

Funding for the 1974 Pension Plan was started in 1946 under an executive order of President Harry Truman and constituted a federal guarantee to the health and welfare of coal miners, creating a “last man’s standing” multiemployer and retirement system for them and their dependents, per Manchin’s office.

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U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.)

U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., was also adamant on the Senate floor discussing the Pension Plan that is headed towards insolvency by 2022.

“We should pass legislation that expands the use of the same transfer payments that is used to support retiree healthcare to make the pension fund solvent,” she said.

“I have supported various forms of that kind of legislation throughout the years.”

Capito said miners have been writing to her, urging passage, and she added that it is important to remember these are not lavish pensions for the miners.

“One miner from Logan, WV who worked in the mines for 36 years, said to keep fighting for our pension,” she said. ” The miner said ‘I received $303.34 cents a month. We need this badly to help pay for food, medicine, and other bills.’

“The average benefit paid by this fund is $560 per month. These retirees are not getting rich on their pension plans and they are not taking lavish expenditures. Without this monthly benefit, many of them would be living on the edge of poverty if they are not already.”

Manchin said the Act comes from the same funding mechanism Congress has used time and again to protect miners.

“This is not going to be a drain on the treasury, it does not cost the taxpayers,” he said. “We have pay force. This will be taken care of as we have taken care of our health care benefits.”

The bill would be fully paid for by two provisions, according to Manchin’s office.

1. By extending for ten years the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund tax at $1.10 per ton of underground-mined coal and $0.55 per ton of surface-mined coal (up to 4.4% of the sales price). This tax is critical for supporting the Black Lung Disability Trust fund, which provides healthcare and benefits to more than 25,000 miners and their dependents.

2. By permitting in-service distributions under a pension plan or a governmental section 457(b) plan at age 59½, thus making the rules for those plans consistent with the rules for section 401(k) plans and section 403(b) plans.

Manchin ultimately just wants Congress to finish the job.

“Save the healthcare of these miners suffering from new bankruptcies,” he said. “Protect the pensions of 87,000 miners nationwide to do it by passing the American Miners Act. This would also ensure the future of the Black Lung Trust Fund, a lifeline of the growing numbers of miners with black lung.”

Read more on the bill here, on Manchin’s website.

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