U.S. Senator Joe Manchin held a packed town hall for miners in Matewan today, assuring attendees that he would fight for health benefits and pensions at risk of running out of money by the end of April.
Union miners who put in 20 or more years were promised lifelong health benefits and pensions decades ago. But as coal companies have gone into bankruptcy, they've sought to shed liabilities, including paying into the pension and benefit funds.
Senators Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito have championed a bill called the Miners Protection Act that would take excess money from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund and repurpose it into shoring up the dwindling pension and benefits fund, but Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly blocked attempts to bring the bill to a vote.
“We could pass the bill if Mitch McConnell put it on the agenda,” Manchin said.
In October, 12,500 miners received notice that without Congressional intervention, their benefits would be terminated at the end of the year. On Nov. 1, another 3,600 miners received notices. Then in December, Congress extended the benefits by four months. That provision will run out at the end of April. In the meantime, McConnell has said he will support a bill saving health care benefits, but not pensions. Manchin said, that’s enough for now. If they can pass a bill saving benefits then they can come back with another bill to salvage pensions.
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Benedum Foundation, Charleston Area Medical Center and WVU Medicine.