Warner & Kaine Introduce Legislation to Strengthen the Black Lung Benefits Program
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine joined Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), John Fetterman (D-PA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) and U.S. Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA-3) in introducing the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act, which would help miners who have suffered from black lung disease and their survivors access the workers’ compensation they are entitled to receive under the Black Lung Benefits Program. This legislation would remove barriers that prevent miners and their survivors from accessing their benefits such as lengthy processing times, lack of a legal representative, and inflation.
“For generations, coal miners across Virginia have made tremendous sacrifices to power America, literally risking their lives and their health to electrify our nation,” said Senator Warner. “Miners living with black lung and their survivors need easy access to the benefits they’ve earned – but far too often, red tape gets in the way. The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act would take important steps to make sure miners can access legal representation, have protection against inflation, and more so America can keep making good on the debt it owes to victims of black lung.”
“Many of our nation’s miners have developed black lung disease, and we owe it to them to provide them with the care and support they need,” said Senator Kaine. “The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act is critical to helping more miners, miner retirees, and their families receive the benefits and compensation they’ve earned following their tremendous sacrifices.”
Many miners have developed coal workers’ pneumoconiosis—commonly referred to as “black lung”—a debilitating and deadly disease caused by the long-term inhalation of coal dust in underground and surface coal mines. In response, Congress passed the Black Lung Benefits Act in 1976 to provide monthly compensation and medical coverage for coal miners who develop black lung disease and are disabled. The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act makes needed updates to ensure Congress is fulfilling its commitment to the Nation’s coal miners by:
- Restoring cost-of-living benefit increases for black lung beneficiaries and ensuring cost-of-living increases are never withheld in the future,
- Helping miners and their survivors secure legal representation by providing interim attorney fees for miners that prevail at various stages of their claim,
- Allowing miners or their survivors to reopen their cases if they had been wrongly denied benefits because of errors in medical interpretations, and
- Prohibiting unethical conduct by attorneys and doctors in the black lung claims process, such as withholding evidence of black lung, and helping miners review and rebut potentially biased or inaccurate medical evidence developed by coal companies.
Warner and Kaine have long worked to support miners and their families. The Senate-passed draft of the Fiscal Year 2024 government funding bill includes $12.19 million in federal funding for black lung clinics, which the senators are working to ensure is included in the final version of the bill. The Inflation Reduction Act, which the senators helped pass, included a permanent extension of the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund’s excise tax at a higher rate, providing certainty for miners, miner retirees, and their families who rely on the fund to access benefits. This followed Warner and Kaine’s successful efforts to ensure that miners receive the pensions and health care they earned. In July, the senators reintroduced the Relief for Survivors of Miners Act, which would ease restrictions to make it easier for miners’ survivors to successfully claim benefits. Warner and Kaine also urged the Biden Administration to issue new silica standards to protect miners across America – a push that helped contribute towards the release of those standards.
A one-pager on the bill is available here.