Unless Congress passes the Miners Protection Act by April 28, more than 2,000 retired union coal miners in Pennsylvania will lose their health care. The bill proposes to use interest from the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act to shore up the health and pension funds administered by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).
A version of the bill has made its way through Congress over the last two years and garnered bipartisan support.
U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said he will continue to advocate for the legislation, but its future depends on whether House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell schedule the bill for a vote.
“It should have been passed last year, and certainly at the end of last year, when Democrats and a few Republicans in both the houses were saying to the leaders, ‘Get it passed.’ It’s been through the committee process,” he said.
President Donald Trump hasn’t indicated whether his administration supports the bill, Casey said.
“That is a giant mystery. Week after week after week I kept waiting for some news that the president would advocate for this.”
About 22,800 UMWA nationwide received notifications on March 1 that their health care would be cut off April 30, said Ed Yankovich, international vice president of District Two of the UWMA. He remains optimistic that Congress will move forward with the legislation.
“Hopefully they don’t kick this down the road and do another continuing resolution where folks have their health care just for another couple of months or so,” he said.
Casey met with UMWA members and leadership on Tuesday at District Two’s offices in Uniontown, Pa. He discussed the Miners Protection Act, as well as two other bills he has re-introduced that would offer greater workplace protections and access to health benefits.
The Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act would strengthen the Mine Safety and Health Administration so it can crack down on mine operators who repeatedly violate safety requirements. The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act intends to make it easier for coal miners to receive black lung benefits.
“It’s frustrating, and alarming I think, that we’re — it’s 2017 — and we’re still legislating on issues that have often been raised or litigated or debated for not just decades but for generations,” said Casey.
Casey introduced the two bills before leaving Washington for Pennsylvania. Congress is in recess for two weeks.