New bill proposed to secure coal miners’ benefits, pension

West Virginia Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) along with Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced the Miners Protection Act in Washington D.C.

This legislation would ensure that the federal government and coal operators honor their obligation of lifetime pensions and health benefits to retired miners and their families who are facing uncertainty as a result of the financial crisis and corporate bankruptcies.

Capito said this legislation is important to her because the mining community has given so much to the state of West Virginia.

“The coal mining community is the heart of West Virginia,” Senator Capito said. “Our hard-working coal miners have dedicated their careers to keeping the lights turned on in our homes, schools and businesses.”

Manchin said he believes more needs to be done to protect the livelihood of miners.

“Our coal miners are some of the hardest working people in America, and they have dedicated their lives to powering this nation and keeping it the strongest in the world,” Senator Manchin said. “We have a responsibility to protect their hard-earned pensions and health benefits.”

Currently the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) 1974 Pension Plan is underfunded. Unlike other public and private pension plans, the 1974 Pension Plan was well-managed and funded prior to the 2008 financial crisis, which hit at a time when this Plan had its highest payment obligations.

Also 60% of the beneficiaries are retirees whose employers are no longer in the coal business, that paired with the fact that there are only 10,000 active workers for 120,000 retirees has placed the Plan on the road to failure.

If the Plan becomes insolvent, these beneficiaries face benefit cuts and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation will assume billions of dollars in liabilities.

Both West Virginia senators echoed one another saying this legislation is the right move to counteract these issues.

“This bill will provide certainty and peace of mind to our retired miners and their families by ensuring they receive the benefits they’ve earned and deserve, while holding employers accountable for the commitments they make to their workers,” Manchin said.

To address these issues, the Miners Protection Act would Amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. It would transfer funds in excess of the amounts needed to meet existing obligations under the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fund to the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan to prevent its insolvency.

The bill would also make certain retirees who lose health care benefits following the bankruptcy or insolvency of his or her employer eligible for the 1993 Benefit Plan. The assets of Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA) created following the Patriot Coal bankruptcy would be transferred to the 1993 Benefit Plan to reduce transfers from the AML fund.

Britanie Morgan can be contacted at [email protected]