Emily Rice Published

Black Lung Benefit Rates Lag Behind Rising Inflation

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The Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center and Appalachian Voices released a report Wednesday, that shows benefits paid to miners with black lung, and their families, have fallen behind the cost of living and rising inflation.

According to a press release from Appalachian Voices, when the federal black lung benefits program was created in 1969, single miners with zero dependents received $144.50 per month.

The report released today shows that with inflation adjustments that figure today should be $1,204.70. However, miners with zero dependents actually receive $738 per month under current law.

Miner benefit levels are tied to the federal pay scale rather than the cost of living. Therefore, though inflation levels have risen, miners’ black lung benefits have not.

Chelsea Barnes is the legislative director at Appalachian Voices, an environmental organization.

“This report that we’ve released today makes it clear that the status quo is not sustainable for miners with black lung or their families as the cost of food, medicine and rent goes sky high and their benefit levels remain stuck in the past,” Barnes said. “Congress can make a simple fix and disconnect miner benefits from the federal pay scale and tie them to inflation. This is a change that will not break the bank. Instead, it will ensure that coal miners and their families have the basic safety net they deserve to survive.”

The new report finds that at the beginning of 2023, inflation rates hit 8 percent, but benefit levels increased by just 4 percent, leaving many miners and their families to struggle to make up the difference as the price of food, gas and medicine continue to rise.

Rebecca Shelton is the director of policy for Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center and spoke about the struggles miners and their families face without support.

“After sacrificing their health and well-being to power our country, miners and their families struggling with a black lung diagnosis shouldn’t have to pinch pennies to survive,” Shelton said. “But the current law ignores inflation and ignores rising prices, leaving disabled coal miners behind. This report should be a clarion call to Congress that, in their efforts to tackle inflation, they must take urgent action to ensure black lung benefits can truly support the people who have earned and deserve them. Anything less is a failure to support our communities during the ongoing cost of living crisis.”