Congress recently included a yearlong extension to uphold the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. This move comes after months of advocacy from coal miners and their widows, as the fund was at serious risk of getting cut. That’s because the tax put on coal companies to support the fund got slashed by more than half at the beginning of 2019. However, coal companies may still have to pay the tax through 2020, despite several of them filing for bankruptcy.
The provision passed through both chambers and is on its way to the president’s desk.
What is black lung disease?
Black lung disease is a deadly and incurable condition that stems from long-term exposure to hazardous materials. It can permanently scar lung tissue, making it extremely difficult for those who have it to breathe and get healthy levels of oxygen into their bloodstream. The condition is common among many coal miners, as coal dust can build up in their system over a prolonged period.
Cases of black lung have seen a surge in the last half-century, as more than 76,000 miners have died because of the disease since 1968. In recent years, multiple studies found that even miners in their mid-30s are becoming more susceptible to the condition.
How does the fund benefit coal miners?
The trust fund provides monthly payments between $650 and $1300 for coal miners and their families. It also offers medical benefits to compensate for their medical ailments. As of 2017, more than 25,000 coal miners rely on these benefits to remain financially stable and afford the medical treatment they need.
The president of the Letcher County Black Lung Association said the tax reinstatement should give advocates more time to find a better long-term solution to the issue.
Still room for improvement
Other efforts have been made by Congress to support coal miners and their medical disparities.
The Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019 got included in the recent congressional spending package. The bill could help set up a pension fund for miners. That’s because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell got legislation to assist the United Mine Workers of America Pension Fund. While many miners say they support the expansion of the pension bill, some are upset that there was allegedly no provision for funding the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.