By DANIEL TYSON
More than 22,800 retired miners receive letters Wednesday notifying them that their health care benefits are terminating at the end of April unless Congress acts.
The two-paragraph letter explains congressional action is needed on the 1993 Continuing Health Benefits for Miners Act if miners are to receive their health care coverage after April 30.
Congress extended health benefits for retired union miners for four months in early December and miners viewed that a broken promise.
West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin Wednesday blamed the Senate for failing to act. “Since the passage of a four-month extension of this deadline to April, I have been working with everyone and from every angle in order to prevent our miners from losing their health care and retirement benefits. But, once again, they are facing a deadline that puts their whole livelihood at risk.
“This has been a long fight and it is far from over,” he said in a prepared release, adding he’s “furious” action hasn’t been taken yet.
Wyoming County retired miners Paul Farrington Fred Blankenship said in December that Washington is welshing on a 1946 promise that the government struck with the union, guaranteeing lifetime pension and benefits if miners did not strike.
However, with the coal industry in free fall, the benefits fund supported by mining companies has shrunk.
Congressional Republicans said they aren’t breaking a promise. A spokesperson for House Speaker Paul Ryan said the benefits were not extended for a full year because $45 million in offsets to cover the cost was not found.
Critics of the government shoring up the health care situation call such an act a bailout.
However, miners scoff at that notion. “We earned it,” said Farrington. “It’s not something we’re taking from the government. We earned it.”
Blankenship quickly added, “Going into the mines every day might not affect you when you are young, but it does after you reach a certain age … It was a promise to us.”
Farrington said if the benefits expire, it would devastate retired miners who rely on the pension and health care, including him.
For him, it’s simple kitchen table economics. He currently pays about $100 a month for prescriptions, but without the health plan his cost would skyrocket to more than $1,000 a month. Then his monthly income would shrink by about half, as his pension disappears.
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