Since 2015, communities in Appalachia have been calling for specific legislation that would assist coal miners and help diversify and strengthen local economies experiencing mass layoffs in the coal sector.
The budget deal passed by Congress last week includes exciting provisions for coal communities and represents a huge victory for coal miners and their families. The bill includes a permanent solution for retired United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) miners who were under threat of losing their health care.* The spending bill does not, however, include a fix for the many retired UMWA miners at risk of losing their pensions.
The health care solution was proposed in 2015 as part of the Miners Protection Act (MPA), led by Senator Joe Manchin and a bipartisan group of cosponsors in the Senate, as well as Representative David McKinley and a bipartisan set of cosponsors in the House. The MPA included provisions that would shore up the struggling fund that provides health care and pensions to tens of thousands of retired UMWA miners and their families. After many months of Kentuckians urging Senator Mitch McConnell to support the Miners Protection Act, the Majority Leader introduced a bill in January 2017 that proposed to solve the health care issue but did not include a pension fix.
Had Congress not taken any action, more than 20,000 retired coal miners–many of whom have contracted black lung disease or experienced other injuries in the mines–would have lost the health care promised to them. In December, Congress provided a temporary, four month funding fix, which would have expired on April 30. Crucially, the federal spending bill passed yesterday now includes a permanent solution. The fight to find a solution for those retired miners whose pensions are under threat continues.
We thank Senator Manchin for his leadership on the Miners Protection Act. We also thank those in Congress who supported the Miners Protection Act, as well as the Senate Majority Leader for his eventual role in securing the permanent health care solution for these miners.
The spending bill also contained great news for economic diversification and mine reclamation efforts in the region. The Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Pilot Program was expanded from $90 million in FY2016 to $105 million.** Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and West Virginia will see $25 million each for FY2017. The program will also be expanded to Ohio, Alabama, and Virginia, which will each see $10 million. The program will allow states to continue important investments in coal mine reclamation projects that spur community and economic development.
We sincerely thank Congressman Hal Rogers for his leadership in ensuring that the AML Pilot Program is continued and expanded, and we appreciate Senator McConnell for his role in securing this provision in the Senate.
And in a significant victory, the spending bill includes $80 million to invest in economic diversification in coal communities. The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) will again receive $50 million for the POWER Initiative, and the Economic Development Administration will receive $30 million for assistance to coal communities, which is twice the FY2016 level of $15 million.*** It is a huge win to see POWER investments continue in FY2017.
We again thank Congressman Hal Rogers and Senator McConnell both for their efforts in securing this funding for the ARC and EDA in FY2017 and for their vocal support of preserving funding for the ARC in FY2018. We hope Congress will maintain the POWER Initiative in FY2018, as well as find a solution for the at-risk pensions of retired UMWA miners.
* See page 669 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017.
** Ibid., see page 313.
*** See page 46 of this explanatory statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 to learn for the ARC “POWER Plus Plan” investment; see page 3 of this explanatory statement for the EDA “Assistance to Coal Communities” investment.