Three US Senators have introduced legislation to secure pensions for retired miners by amending the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 and the Coal Act to include 2018 and 2019 bankruptcies in the miners’ healthcare fix that passed in 2017.
The bill is intended to secure the pensions of 92,000 coal miners and to protect healthcare benefits for 13,000 miners.
The Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019 transfers certain funds to provide pension and health benefits for retired coal miners who have been affected by coal company bankruptcies. It was introduced by three US senators: Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republicans Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. McConnell is the powerful Senate majority leader.
“Year after year, our coal miners risked their lives to bring America the energy needed to become the world leader we are today,” Senator Manchin said in a release. “Our coal miners made a commitment to our country, and now it is our turn to uphold the commitment we made to them in 1946 by securing their hard-earned pensions and healthcare.”
The Department of the Treasury would transfer additional funds to the 1974 United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) Pension Plan to pay pension benefits, the bill would provide. This would occur if the annual limit on transfers under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 exceeds the amount required to be transferred for existing obligations of the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund. The bill would also increase the annual limit on transfers to $750 million from $490 million.
The bill also adds miners affected by 2018 coal company bankruptcies to the group whose retiree health benefits are used in determining the amount that the Treasury must transfer under current law to the Multiemployer Health Benefit Plan.
It allows in-service distributions under a pension plan or governmental section 457(b) plan at age 59 ½, down from age 62, and extends and increases the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund excise tax.
“This is a permanent remedy for the pension and health care dilemma miners across Appalachia have unfairly had to face,” Senator Capito said. “Our miners worked for these pensions.”