By AUSTIN WEIFORD
The Exponent Telegram
CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — U.S. Sens. Shelly Moore Capito and Joe Manchin, as well as Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, are supporting passage of Senate Bill 3470, or the Miners Protection Act. The act is intended to protect the health benefits of retired coal miners and their families.
According to Manchin’s office, retired miners face an uncertain future because the United Mine Workers of America 1974 Pension Plan is extremely low on funding.
Unlike other public and private pension plans, the 1974 Pension Plan was funded appropriately before the 2008 financial crisis, which happened at a time when the plan had its highest payment obligations.
If the plan becomes insolvent, retired miners face benefit cuts, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation will take on billions of dollars in liabilities.
Manchin and Capito are among a bipartisan group of 20 other senators who signed a letter to House and Senate leadership calling for immediate passage of the Miners Protection Act.
“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 letter reads. “The funding provided for Patriot Retirees Voluntary Employee’s Beneficiary Association 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 by the end of this year.”
The act would also make certain retired miners who lose health care benefits following the bankruptcy or insolvency of their employer are eligible for the United Mine Workers of America 1993 Benefit Plan, which provides health benefits to certain eligible retired miners. The assets of the Voluntary Employee Benefit Association, created following the Patriot Coal bankruptcy, would be transferred to the 1993 Benefit Plan to reduce transfers from the Abandoned Mine Land fund.
“For decades, West Virginia’s coal miners have given tirelessly of themselves to power our nation, lift up our economy and support their families,” Tomblin said. “Today, we stand at an important juncture in the test of our support for them. With health care benefits set to expire by year’s end for thousands of retired miners, I encourage Congress to act swiftly in passing the Miners Protection Act. Here in the Mountain State, we know that a promise made should be a promise kept. I stand with Senator Manchin and Senator Capito in their work to keep a critical promise to our coal miners through passage of this legislation.”