November 22, 2016

Warner, Kaine Urge Congressional Leadership To Take Action To Protect Miners Before The End Of The Year

~ Without the Miners Protection Act, an estimated 10,000 retired coal miners in Virginia are at risk of losing health and pension benefits in the coming months ~

WASHINGTON – Today, Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) joined 20 of their Senate colleagues in sending a bipartisan letter to Congressional leadership urging passage of the Miners Protection Act by the end of this year. The bill, which would protect the hard-earned health and pension benefits of retired mine workers, has bipartisan support and is currently awaiting consideration in the Senate after passing through the Senate Finance Committee in September by a large margin. 

“This bill is simple – it is the continuation of a longstanding commitment by our government to lifetime health and retirement benefits for our miners,” the Senators wrote. 

Retired miners are facing uncertainty because the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) 1974 Pension Plan is severely underfunded, still reeling from the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the effects of a downturn in the coal industry. The Miners Protection Act  would take leftover funds from a federal government program that cleans up abandoned mines to shore up the underfunded health insurance and pension plan. Without the legislation, thousands of retired coal miners – including nearly 20,000 retirees whose companies filed for bankruptcy last year alone – face the prospect of significant cuts to their pensions and health care.  

 “The Miners Protection Act is a responsible, bipartisan solution to an immediate problem that is fully offset and has gone through regular order.  We strongly encourage you to pass the Miners Protection Act of 2016 (S. 1714) by the end of this year,” the Senators concluded.  

Other signatories to the letter included Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Bob Casey (D-PA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Al Franken (D-MN), Patty Murray (D-WA), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Richard Burr (R-NC), Rob Portman (R-OH), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jim Risch (R-ID), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Jerry Moran (R-KS).   

Full text of the letter can be found here and below.

The Honorable Paul Ryan
Speaker
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515                      

The Honorable Mitch McConnell

Majority Leader

United States Senate

Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi

Democratic Leader
U.S. House of Representatives                                    

 

The Honorable Harry Reid

Democratic Leader

United States Senate

Washington, D.C. 20510    

Dear Senator McConnell, Senator Reid, Speaker Ryan and Representative Pelosi:

During the month of October, approximately 12,500 of our nation’s retired coal miners received notices  informing them that their healthcare benefits will be terminated at the end of this year.   The funding provided for Patriot Retirees Voluntary Employee’s Beneficiary Association (Patriot VEBA) will be exhausted by December 31, 2016, leaving these miners and their families without the essential healthcare benefits they earned through a lifetime of hard work.  On November 1st, another 3,600 miners began to receive notices.  And next year, 6,500 more will suffer the same fate.   Additionally, the pension fund that these miners and their widows rely on for life’s basic necessities will reach the point of no return shortly thereafter.  Therefore, we ask that you pass the Miners Protection Act of 2016 (S. 1714) by the end of this year.  

In March of this year, the Miners Protection Act was the subject of a legislative hearing before the Senate Committee on Finance.  On September 21st, S. 1714 was approved by the Committee with a strong bipartisan vote of 18 to 8.  We worked closely with our colleagues to ensure that the bill was fully offset and that no funding was diverted away from either abandoned mine reclamation efforts or annual payments to certified states. 

This bill is simple – it is the continuation of a longstanding commitment by our government to lifetime health and retirement benefits for our miners.  The Krug-Lewis Agreement was signed in 1946 at the White House in front of President Truman by UMWA president John L. Lewis and Secretary of the Interior Julius Krug.  This agreement ended a government seizure of the nation’s coal industry after a widespread strike by coal miners.  

While the agreement itself was not drafted in perpetuity, Congress essentially codified the promises made in that agreement by subsequently passing the Coal Act.  The Coal Act and its 2006 amendments re-committed the government to the health and retirement security of our nation’s miners and their families.  In fact, prior to passage of the 1992 Coal Act, the Dole Commission (appointed by President George H.W. Bush) issued a report stating that, “The UMWA Health and Retirement Funds is as much a creature of government as it is of collective bargaining. There is a line running from the original Boone Report to the present system. In a way, the original Krug-Lewis agreement predisposed, if not predetermined, the system that evolved.”  

The Miners Protection Act is a responsible, bipartisan solution to an immediate problem that is fully offset and has gone through regular order.  We strongly encourage you to pass the Miners Protection Act of 2016 (S. 1714) by the end of this year.

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