Miners are fighting Congress to save the black lung’s benefits

Miners have successfully pushed Congress to extend the coal excise tax, which is used to fund the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, until 2021 as the fund faces financial difficulties due to bankruptcies across the coal industry.

The coal miners referred to the pandemic to lower the excise tax on coal, and the National Mining Association advocated a 55 percent cut in the tax rate.

In late 2019, Congress took action to restore the coal tax to $ 1.10 per tonne for underground mines and $ 0.50 per tonne for miners for a year after a brief tax rate cut. The tax was included in the government expenditure account for fiscal year 2020.

Without action by Congress, the tax would have been cut in half, shifting the government’s financial burden and further jeopardizing the bankruptcy fund. The tax was extended to the end of 2021 in the federal government’s latest spending bill, when black-lung miners again have concerns about urging Congress to act unless they manage to find a longer-term solution this year.

“The black lung is a killer, it just destroys all the organs in your body. There is no cure for it. “said 74-year-old Jimmy Moore, who worked as a miner for 22 years.” I have black lungs. My son has complicated black lungs. He had good hospital friends who died of a ventilator because of black lungs. I have seen young men 40 to 50 years old who have oxygen and left young women and children behind. “

Moore’s lung capacity is not low enough to be eligible for black lung disability benefits, but he applies annually as the disease progresses. He attributes his less advanced case to the fact that his mine was unionized and safety standards and dust-reduction measures were enforced by the union. He said he took a union-organizing approach to fighting for miners suffering from black lung disease and has made five visits to Washington DC in the past few years to urge Congress to take action to fund and protect the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.

“Senator Mitch McConnell is the holdover I believe is all of this,” added Moore. “Congress needs to take action. We don’t deserve to get black lung, it’s the company’s fault and I think the company should be responsible for giving us black lung benefits. We really need to get their attention one way or another, but this coronavirus that is happening right now is really affecting our ability to get around and talk to people. “

The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund was set up by the federal government in 1977 to provide payments for medical services and disabilities to miners affected by black lung disease whose responsible coal operators cannot pay. The fund’s primary source of income is an excise tax on coal produced and sold in the United States, which currently supports approximately 25,000 retired miners.

“Congress has no idea what miners are going through. We are giving up our health to bring coal to market and provide electricity. They take up our health and as we get older they try to take advantage of them, ”said Harold Sturgill of Beckley, West Virginia, who worked as a miner for 35 years and struggled with black lung disease. “Congress really needs to look at and monitor these companies because they haven’t put what they’re supposed to be in the Black Lung Benefit Fund. It seems like they just let these companies do what they wanted. ”

Black lung disease, formerly known as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, is caused by years of inhalation of coal mine dust. An estimated 76,000 miners died from black lung disease between 1968 and 2014 as there has been an increase in black lung cases in recent years, particularly among young miners in the Appalachian Mountains.

The U.S. Bureau of Accountability estimated in January 2020 that $ 865 million in black lung benefits were transferred to the fund due to coal bankruptcies. The fund currently has approximately $ 4 billion in debt to the US Treasury Department.

“We’ve been working on this for years and we’re only getting a one-year extension,” said Vonda Robinson, vice president of the Black Lung Association in Southwest Virginia. Your organization and others have urged the current consumption tax on coal to be extended by at least ten years. “We shouldn’t have to fight every year to achieve this.”

Her husband John Robinson worked as a miner for almost 30 years. He was diagnosed with black lung disease around 2013 and it was about six years before he received his lifelong black lung benefits, which were originally challenged by the coal company he worked for. Robinson explained that it often takes several years for miners to receive black lung disability benefits because coal companies are delaying and fighting against providing benefits.

“There is a long process to get benefits,” she said. “Some of these miners are in their 70s and 80s and they’re still fighting for their black lung benefits. The company hopes these men will die or give up. Many men give up, tired of fighting, and that shouldn’t be the case with these men or their widows. ”

Although John Robinson was able to receive his black lung disability benefits, living with the disease is a daily struggle for him. He described it as a lawn mower to mow a lawn with a pillow over your face. At the age of 54, his black lung disease developed from stage one to stage two in just a few years, making him dependent on extra oxygen at night and during the day.

“We were kicked aside. We shouldn’t have to fight another year to reap our black lung benefits, ”said John Robinson. “That should never be something we have to fight for, but we have to fight a year to get it for another year and fight again, it repeats itself, it shouldn’t be like that. That is not right. It shouldn’t be a fight. “

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