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Bill introduced to shore up miners’ pensions and health care

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nearly 28,000 retired West Virginia coal miners and their widows would benefit from legislation introduced Tuesday in the U.S. Senate.  The Miners Protection Act aims to shore up the 1974 UMWA Pension Plan.

“If it become insolvent, these beneficiaries faced benefit cuts and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation was going to have to assume Billions of dollars in liability,” said U.S. Senator Joe Manchin. “Taxpayers are going to pick it up and we think we have a better way of handling that.”

Manchin, on a conference call with reporters, explained the plan would draw money from the Abandoned Mine Lane Reclamation Fund to help pay the benefits. The 1974 Pension Plan was doing fine until the recession of 2008.  The downturn in the economy coupled with the highest demand on the fund in its history jeopardized its future.

The pension fund has struggled because fewer and fewer miners needed to do the job, Manchin said.  However, the AML funds are collected based on the tonnage produced.

“Based on the tonnage basis, money to AML was able to keep pace,” said Manchin. “This is money we already have.”

The bill uses interest earned on the AML fund and existing direct appropriations, under the $490 million a year cap, to shore up the 1974 Pension plan and to ensure that Patriot Coal retirees have healthcare benefits through the 1993 Benefit Plan, according to a Manchin spokesperson.

“That will give us the liquidity we need in order to keep the plan alive,” said Manchin.

The plan also gives another outlet to shoring up the pension and health care plans.  Any pensioner whose health care and retirement was lost because their company went bankrupt will be given another avenue toward garnering benefits. The act will allow tapping into the Voluntary Employment Benefit Association created following the bankruptcy of Patriot Coal. Those funds would be transferred into the 1993 pension and benefit plan and reduce the transfers from the AML funds.

Along with Manchin, U.S. Senator Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) is sponsoring the bill along with Bob Casey (D-PA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).  Manchin believes the program has strong bi-partisan support to win approval.

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