July 17, 2019

Warner & Kaine Call For Congress To Prevent Loss Of Coal Miners’ Health Benefits By End Of Year

WASHINGTON, D.C. —Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine released the following statement on the announcement that without action, health care coverage for about 1,200 Westmoreland and Mission Coal retirees – including up to 800 Virginians – is at risk of running out by the end of the year:

“Our nation’s coal miners have earned their benefits after years of working in dangerous conditions to provide us with energy to help power the U.S. economy. Congress must pass our American Miners Act to protect the pensions and health care of retired coal miners across the country and ensure they don’t lose coverage by year’s end. It’s long past time to give these hardworking miners some peace of mind.”

Senator Kaine spoke on the Senate floor today to highlight the new deadline for action on miners’ health care and put pressure on Senate leadership to act on a fix – in particular the American Miners Act of 2019. Watch his floor speech here. The legislation, sponsored by Warner and Kaine, would secure pensions and health care benefits for our nation’s retired coal miners – including the hundreds of Virginians affected by the bankruptcy of a Colorado-based mining company.

Eligible coal miners receive post-retirement health care from multiemployer health benefit plans. These plans are sponsored by coal companies, maintained as part of a collective bargaining agreement, and originate from the 1946 Krug-Lewis Agreement that created the UMWA Health & Retirement Funds. Because of the 2008 financial crisis and coal company bankruptcies, many retired coal miners are at risk of losing these health care benefits by the end of 2019 as well as their pension benefits by 2022. In the May 2017 appropriations bill, Congress ensured that the Krug-Lewis Agreement for guaranteed health care and pension benefits would be maintained. Specifically, the bill included $1.3 billion over 10 years to fund retired coal miners’ health care benefits. However, it only included beneficiaries from companies that declared bankruptcy prior to the end of 2017. Westmoreland and Mission Coal filed for bankruptcy in 2018. Unless Congress steps in, multiemployer health plan trustees will soon be issuing 60-day notices, required under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), to all affected beneficiaries.