Congress has passed a bipartisan agreement designed to secure pensions and healthcare for nearly 100,000 coal miners and their families. The Bipartisan American Miners Act has been included in the final funding package that kept the government open beyond Dec. 20 when the current temporary funding measure expired.
The coal miners pension bill amends the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) to transfer certain funds to the Multiemployer Health Benefit Plan and the 1974 United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Pension Plan to provide health and pension benefits to the coal miners and their families.
It also adds miners affected by 2018 coal company bankruptcies to the group whose retiree health benefits are considered when determining the amount that the US Treasury Department must transfer under current law to the Multiemployer Health Benefit Plan.
The Treasury Department must transfer additional funds to the 1974 United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Pension Plan to pay benefits required under that plan. That occurs if the annual limit on transfers under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 is greater than the amount required to be transferred for existing obligations of the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund. The bill also increases the annual limit on transfers to $750 million from $490 million.
Other features of the bill include allowing in-service distributions under a pension plan or governmental section 457(b) plan at age 59-1/2, instead of the current age of 62. It also extends and increases the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund excise tax.
“Today we came to an agreement that will finally secure pensions and healthcare for our coal miners and their families,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), one of the sponsors of the bill, said in a statement. “We have honored the promise this country made to them back in 1946.”
Both the House of Representatives and Senate are expected to approve the government-funding bills by the end of the year and send it to President Trump, who has said he will sign it into law.
The United Mine Workers of America International, which represents 80,000 miners lauded the legislation.
“The inclusion of Bipartisan American Miners Act in the appropriations legislation to be considered by Congress this week is a tremendous victory for tens of thousands of retired miners, their families and their communities,” Cecil Roberts , president of United Mine Workers of America International, said in a statement.
“We are close, but the fight is not yet over. We will continue our efforts to ensure that this language stays in the legislation throughout the process, because there are still those who oppose allowing retirees from living out their days with the measure of comfort and dignity that they have earned.”