A pension fund for thousands of retired coal miners faces insolvency by the end of December, and Congress is running out of time to make the fix.
In September, the Senate Finance Committee approved the Miners Protection Act by 18-8. But neither the full Senate nor the House of Representatives has taken up the bill.
With the clock ticking, 22 senators from both parties wrote Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on Tuesday to urge the bill’s passage.
Retired miners have already received notices that their health care benefits would end.
“During the month of October, approximately 12,500 of our nation’s retired coal miners received notices informing them that their healthcare benefits will be terminated at the end of this year,” the senators wrote. “On November 1st, another 3,600 miners began to receive notices. And next year, 6,500 more will suffer the same fate.”
The United Mine Workers of America’s pension plan is underfunded because the number of retirees now far exceeds the number of active workers as union mining jobs have declined along with a general downturn in the coal industry.
The Miners Protection Act has bipartisan support from a number of senators from coal-producing states: Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia; Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Mark Kirk of Illinois; Ohio Republican Rob Portman and Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey.
It does not yet have the backing of McConnell or Kentucky’s junior senator, Rand Paul.
A group of retired miners from Eastern Kentucky and other struggling coal regions came to Capitol Hill in September to protest the lack of congressional action on the pension rescue
The legislation would transfer excess funds from a federal program to reclaim and restore abandoned mine sites to keep the pension plan solvent. If lawmakers do nothing, the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. would assume the liabilities and the pension plan’s beneficiaries would face benefit cuts.
A group of retired miners from Eastern Kentucky and other struggling coal regions came to Capitol Hill in September to protest the lack of congressional action on the pension rescue.
Donald Trump won in part because of heavy support in coal-producing regions, but it is far from certain that he can fulfill his campaign promise to bring back coal-related jobs.