Without an intervention, about 16,000 retired miners in seven states were expected to lose their health care coverage by the end of the year. A proposal to temporarily extend the benefits worked its way through Congress late last week.
The continuing resolution bill that extended funding for the federal government passed in Congress shortly before the previous funding bill would have run out on Friday, December 9. The stall came from Democrats who expressed their concern that the extension of miners' benefits was too short. The bill extends government funding through April 28.
The Miners Protect Act, which addresses health and pension benefits for coal miners and their families, was removed from the continuing resolution bill. This act would move money from the Abandoned Mine Lands Reclamation Fund into a fund to pay for the pension and health care benefits of coal miners and retirees.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, voted against cloture for the continuing resolution because he felt the four-month proposal to fund retired miners health care was inhumane and unacceptable.
“I continue to think the four-month fix included in today’s Continuing Resolution is not a meaningful solution to this dire problem,” Sen. Manchin said. “That is why I opposed cloture and urged my colleagues to do the same.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., proposed a temporary fix that took $45 million from the existing UMWA fund and attached it to the continuing resolution to fund the federal government through April 2017.
“With my support, Congress has previously intervened twice to save health benefits for union coal-miner retirees,” Sen. McConnell said. “This time, I appealed directly to House Speaker Paul Ryan to include a solution to this health benefits problem in the government funding bill. While it was my preference to include a long-term solution, it was more important to protect the benefits for thousands of my constituents, than to risk any lapse in benefits by fighting for a broader provision.”
McConnell and Manchin both said they plan to work together to find a long-term solution.
“I believe Sen. McConnell and I have come to an agreement on how we can work together to come up with a permanent solution that is worthy of these brave miners and their families,” Manchin said. “This has been a long fight and it is far from over.”
UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said, “While we are extremely disappointed that we were unable to achieve a full and final fix for our retirees’ health care and pensions at the end of this year’s Congress, our efforts were successful in winning a short-term extension of health care benefits for all of our members who received notices that their benefits would be terminated in January.
“But it is nowhere near to fulfilling the government's promise to these people. We are more committed than ever to this fight, and will renew our efforts on the first day of the next Congress.”