Second update, 11:38pm Sunday, April 30. Yes, it’s time for the second update already. According to some twitter feeds, there is a permanent fix for miners’ benefits. Stay tuned but fingers crossed they WILL have health care benefits sustained permanently. Pensions are another matter…
Update 10:55pm Sunday, April 30. Literally 5 minutes after I posted this, I learned that they’ve reached a budget extension to September. I haven’t yet found the details about the miners’ health care and pension. I’m 99% sure that they will have included pensions and health care in this fix. But it’s a bandaid. The Miners Protection Act is true and permanent. It will guarantee these benefits. So let’s go and get those votes.
As of Friday, May 5, tens of thousands of miners will lose their health care and pension benefits. This is a complicated issue, one outlined way way better than I will here by the thorough and insightful Simon Haeder, Ph.D., of West Virginia University. Read that article if you’re concerned about the issue! If you want the gist and do to your #fiveminutes, then stick with me.
Here’s a brief summary. In the 1940s, the US government took over US mines in face of labor uprising. Congress then passed the Krug-Lewis Agreement, which guaranteed workers of United Coal Miners of America their pensions and health care. For a long time, this was all adequately funded without federal government intervention. Then, 2008. The Great Recession. The funds couldn’t be sustained.
Then, there was a giant debate as to whether or not the benefits were guaranteed by the federal government. Guess who didn’t think so? The Heritage Foundation. Weird! And, Sen. Mitch McConnel (yes, the one from Kentucky, a coal state) doesn’t want to fund the pension just the health care benefits? Whaaat? That’s not what the federal government said!
A few more facts:
- This will cost about $2.2 billion over 10 years. The federal budget was $4 trillion last year. So 2.2/10/1000 = .00022. That’s small.
- Coal miners have lower life expectancies and more health issues than the average person. They also have EXPECTED this benefit for their entire career. To renege on that promise is amoral. There, I said it. Perhaps some of the workers would have chosen another profession if such benefits weren’t guaranteed. They probably thought: Sure, I’ll go work in this coal mine. I might develop respiratory issues and heart disease. But I’ll also be taken care of and have a decent wage when I retire (which I sure hope isn’t old because this coal mining is hard!). Not: Hm, this is tough, but it’s ok that my family will go bankrupt taking care of me when I’m 50 because I have no health insurance, can’t work, and have a chronic disease. Guys, this was a guaranteed benefit.
- The ACA also provided black lung benefits to miners. Now the Republicans are trying to repeal and replace. Double whammy.
Senator Manchin (D-WV) is the lead sponsor of the Miners Protection Act of 2017 to retain the benefits. Senator Capito (R-WV) also is a co-sponsor; however, she also suggested that she’d be ok(ish) with McConnell’s proposal to peal off the pension benefits from the health care ones (meaning OK on health care but no way on pensions). We shouldn’t let them. Unsurprisingly, most of the other co-sponsors are almost all Democrats. Many are on coal states. But Senators who are in coal states aren’t co-sponsors are:
- Our friend Mitch (KY)
- Rand Paul (duh; R-KY)
- Todd Young (R-KY)
- Pat Toomey (R-PA; Toomey in particular has waffled on his support)
- Steve Daines (R-MT)
Also, remember this guy and how much he loves coal miners? Think he’s coming out in
support of the Miners Protection Act and the miners it will help? Nope!
- Now, we keep on the pressure. For those of us in West Virginia, let’s make those calls. Keep Capito to her word and encourage McKinley to come on board (once it gets to the House).
- Spread via social media! Are you in an Indivisible group? Spread to your membership and other groups in your state. Put on the pressure especially if you’re in a coal state and if you have Republican senators. Even if you aren’t spread via social media. Tag your friends in those states; tag your senators.
- Use these hashtags: #coal, #miners, #blacklung. They’re popular so using them now will help raise attention to the issue.
- Call. We’re all calling this week about the ACA anyway so also tell your MOC to support the Miners Protection Act.