THOUSANDS OF WV MINERS LOSING BENEFITS – Congress Lukewarm With Solution

A short-term extension of health care benefits for tens of thousands of retired coal miners and their families proposed by WV congressional Republicans has been met with with lukewarm results.
Tens of thousands of WV miners and their families are losing healthcare and retirement benefits.

The United Mine Workers union and coalfield political leaders say is a looming crisis for their communities.

UMW President Cecil Roberts called the proposal, which emerged late Tuesday in a temporary federal government spending bill, a “travesty” that the union would fight “in any way we can.”

The measure provides no funding for the UMW’s troubled pension plan and the short-term health benefits it does provide would be paid for by taking money from an existing union benefit program that covers a different group of retirees.

Roberts said, “Further, the complete exclusion of any language to provide help for the pensions of 120,000 current and future retirees puts America’s coalfield communities on a glide path to deeper economic disaster.”

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said the continuing-resolution language is inadequate and unacceptable, and repeated their promise to block the Senate from passing other legislation unless a complete fix for the UMW’s health care benefit and pension crisis is added to the spending measure or given a separate vote on the floor.

Manchin, in a floor speech Tuesday, said that more than 16,000 UMW retirees received letters in October warning that they would lose their health care benefits this month.

The ongoing downturn in the coal industry also has forced some major operators into bankruptcy court, where they were able to shed their pension and health care benefit liabilities.

About 89,000 miners or family members receive pensions, and another 22,000 have vested in the plan but are not yet receiving pensions, said UMW spokesman Phil Smith.

Last year, Republican leader McConnell blocked efforts to attach the bill to a spending measure.