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Miners Pension Act included in spending package; lawmakers, union leaders celebrate

MORGANTOWN — The Bipartisan American Miners Act has been wrapped into Congress’ final funding package. While no votes have been taken yet, lawmakers and mining leaders celebrated the achievement on Monday.

“Today we came to an agreement that will finally secure pensions and healthcare for our coal miners and their families. We have honored the promise this country made to them back in 1946,” cosponsor Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. “This bill secures lifetime healthcare benefits for the 13,000 miners who would have lost their benefits entirely and the 92,000 miners who would have seen their pensions gutted next year without Congressional action.”

Rep. David McKinley

The current continuing resolution that keeps government funded and running expires Dec. 20 and Congress has been working on crafting 12 spending measures, which have been combined into a package of two omnibus bills, to pass by the deadline – and the holiday break. The House votes on the package on Tuesday and the Senate will vote later in the week.

“This would not have happened without the UMWA and the thousands of coal miners who invested their time and energy, year after year, coming to Washington, walking the halls, and fighting for their brothers and sisters,” Manchin said. “I want to thank my colleagues in Congress, Democrats and Republicans, for making this a truly bipartisan effort.”

The Bipartisan American Miners Act would amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to require the Treasury Department to transfer additional funds to the UMWA pension plan from excess Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund money. It also will amend the Coal Act to include the 2018 and 2019 bankruptcies in the miners’ healthcare fix that passed in 2017.

UMWA President Cecil Roberts.

Act cosponsor Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., commented, “Protecting the health care and pension benefits for our coal miners has been one of my top priorities, and I am thrilled legislation protecting these benefits for our miners is included in the final funding package. I look forward to a strong bipartisan vote on this so we can send this to President Trump’s desk for his signature. I’m grateful to our West Virginia miners—who I’ve stood alongside throughout this entire process—for their hope, their patience, and the hard work they’ve done for decades to power our country.”

On the House side, Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va. worked for year on a pension bill, and sponsored a House version of the Miners Act.  “After years of work to protect the pensions and health care earned by retired miners, the finish line is in sight,” he said. “By the end of the week Congress will finally provide peace of mind to the 100,000 retirees, widows, and families who depend on the UMWA pension fund. This agreement to keep the promise to our retired miners comes as a result of a years-long bipartisan effort that I have been proud to lead in the House.”

United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts commented in a release that the inclusion of the act in the spending package “is a tremendous victory for tens of thousands of retired miners, their families and their communities.”

He cautioned, “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 to live out their days with the measure of comfort and dignity that they have earned. … The end of our 10-year battle to preserve the pensions and health care our retirees earned in sweat and blood is in sight. Let’s get this done in Congress, and put it on President Trump’s desk for his signature.”

Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, a retired miner and UMWA official, also issued a statement: “I am relieved and grateful that Sen. Manchin, Sen. Capito and West Virginia’s House delegation were able to secure a bipartisan agreement that protects lifetime healthcare benefits and pensions for thousands of coal miners in West Virginia and throughout the country.

“I would also like to thank the leadership of President Cecil Roberts, Secretary-Treasurer Levi Allen and the UMWA rank-and-file-miners who have spent countless days on Capitol Hill urging our government to keep the promise of cradle-to-grave healthcare and pensions for coal miners and their spouses.”

This report will be updated with comments from Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, who cosponsored the bill.

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