WASHINGTON, D.C. — A long fight which has kept retired coal miners in West Virginia and across the United States with near constant uncertainty may be nearing an end.
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin on Monday announced the bipartisan American Miners Act will be included in the funding package to keep the federal government operating beyond Dec. 20. A vote on the funding package is expected by Friday.
“Today we came to an agreement that will finally secure pensions and healthcare for our coal miners and their families. We have honored the promise this country made to them back in 1946,” said Manchin in a release announcing the agreement.
BREAKING NEWS: Today we came to an agreement that will finally secure pensions & healthcare for our coal miners & their families. . I look forward to voting for this crucial bill later this week & sending it to the President so he can sign it into law. https://t.co/7bNa9ooCDJ
— Senator Joe Manchin (@Sen_JoeManchin) December 16, 2019
Manchin and other members of the state’s congressional delegation have been pushing for a congressional fix from at least 2015 and trying to get an agreement to use excess funds from the Abandoned Mine Lands fund to shore up the healthcare and pensions of nearly 100,000 retired coal miners, their widows, and families across West Virginia. The urgency was accelerated with the recent bankruptcy of Murray Energy, the last of the large coal companies still contributing to the UMWA healthcare and pension funds. There was a fear without the legislation, thousands of miners would lose their healthcare and pension benefits on Jan. 1, 2020.
“The inclusion of Bipartisan American Miners Act in the appropriations legislation to be considered by Congress this week is a tremendous victory for tens of thousands of retired miners, their families and their communities,,” said United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts in a statement reacting to Manchin’s announcement.
“We are close, but the fight is not yet over. The House will vote on this tomorrow, and the Senate will vote later in the week. We will continue our efforts to ensure that this language stays in the legislation throughout the process, because there are still those who oppose allowing retirees to live out their days with the measure of comfort and dignity that they have earned,” he said.
Roberts also praised other West Virginia elected leaders.“Our three champions on both sides of Capitol Hill fought hard against sometimes long odds to get us to this day: Senator Joe Manchin (D – W.Va.) Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Representative David McKinley (R-W.Va.). They never quit, they never turned around, they never stopped working side by side with us to get this done,” Roberts said.
Capito said Monday that she’s looking for a strong bipartisan vote so the bill can be sent to the desk of President Donald Trump.
“I’m grateful to our West Virginia miners—who I’ve stood alongside throughout this entire process—for their hope, their patience, and the hard work they’ve done for decades to power our country,” Capito said. “Leader McConnell, Senator Manchin, and I have worked in a bipartisan way on this issue, and I thank them both for their tireless efforts to make sure we secure these hard-earned benefits for our miners.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell got on board with the legislation last month.
“Having Senator McConnell actually support the bill is a great harbinger of what could come,” Capito predicted at the time.
First District Congressman David McKinley said by the end of the week there will finally be peace for 100,000 retirees, widows, and families who depend on the UMWA pension fund.
“This agreement to keep the promise to our retired miners comes as a result of a years-long bipartisan effort that I have been proud to lead in the House,” McKinley said. “Working alongside Senators Capito and Manchin and the United Mine Workers, we have kept this issue front and center. I look forward to this agreement passing the House and Senate later this week and being signed into law.
Hundreds of miners and widows have been frequent visitors to the U.S. Capitol building and the offices of U.S. senators during the last few years urging passage of the legislation.