Thursday, December 8, 2016

Miners' health care and pension benefits are on the line

Miners march in Waynesburg, Pa. in April, 2016 - Photo by Andrew Rush, Post-Gazette
The fate of health care and pensions of thousands of coal miners is taking center stage this week as Congress struggles to pass a funding bill by Friday to keep the government open for the next four months.
In the latest development, the Republican majority in the Senate has agreed to extend health care benefits — but only for four months.  
Congress is entering the final days to pass the Miners Protection Act, which was proposed more than a year ago to direct $3 billion over the next 10 years into health care and pension funds for miners. The money would prop up United Mine Workers of America pension funds, relied on by more than 89,000 miners nationwide, including 13,000 miners in Pennsylvania.
An extension would honor a promise by the federal government dating back to the Truman administration to guarantee UMWA retirement funds. Without action, roughly 17,000 miners across the country would lose their health care benefits later this month, and an additional 4,000 would lose them early next year.

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The move to stuff an extension of health care benefits into a short-term appropriations bill was announced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Tuesday. The bill is required to fund the government beyond the end of the year and must be approved before Congress breaks for holiday.
Linking the miners’ health care to the short-term funding bill angered supporters of the bill, including Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey, who called it a “profound betrayal” of miners.
“This proposal does nothing to protect pensions and will extend health coverage for so short a time that recipients would be notified almost simultaneously that they are both eligible for benefits and that their benefits will terminate,” Mr. Casey wrote. 
Mr. Casey said he’s incredulous the full act was dropped following the election of Republican Donald J. Trump, who won support among large swaths of coal country by promising to enact miner-friendly policies. Mr. Casey wrote a letter to Mr. Trump last month that urged the president-elect to encourage his party’s leadership to back the measure. Of the bill’s 18 co-sponsors, eight are Republicans.
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