June 5, 2018 - A report released by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) shows that the Black Lung Benefits Program is more than $4 billion dollars in debt, and a 55 percent reduction scheduled at the end of 2018 in the production tax paid by coal companies will cause that deficit to nearly quadruple over the next 30 years.
"The modest benefits paid to Black Lung victims or their widows are small compensation for the constant pain and suffering caused by this disease,” United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil E. Roberts said. “These workers contracted this always-fatal occupational disease because they went to work in coal mines whose operators did not take the necessary steps to properly protect them.”
“Miners get black lung by working in a mine where the operator is not adequately controlling respirable dust,” Roberts said. “This happens because the company is not complying with laws and regulations regarding proper ventilation of the mine and/or not following other required health and safety laws and regulations.”
“Coal operators caused this problem, and they are the ones who should be responsible for funding the compensation these workers receive,” Roberts said. “Letting them off the hook by reducing the amount they are required to pay is not just wrong, it is rewarding bad corporate behavior.”
Coal companies pay $1.10 per ton of coal mined underground and $0.55 per ton of surface-mined coal into the Black Lung Benefits Program, which is administered by the Department of Labor. Those amounts were set by law in 1981, but are scheduled to drop at the end of 2018 to $0.50 per ton for coal produced underground and $0.25 for surface-mined coal.
“Allowing the contribution rate to drop would cause the Black Lung Benefits Program to go $1.85 billion dollars further into debt over the next ten years,” Roberts said. “That money funds small but critically needed benefits that these miners andwidows need to help provide some of the basic necessities of life.”
“At a time when Black Lung is on the rise, especially among younger miners, Congress should not be even considering allowing the coal industry contribution to be cut,” Roberts said. “Miners are going to need these benefits for decades to come. This is a problem that has been created by the coal industry, there is a system to help the victims of this disease already in place that the coal industry pays for, and I see no reason why we would put the taxpayers on the hook instead.”
Click here (PDF) to read the report done by GAO.
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