By Dawn Geske | Oct 4, 2016

CHARLESTON – The Miners Protection Act has passed the U.S. Senate's Finance Committee as a proposal to keep health care benefits and pensions in place for miners, retirees, and widows.

Championed by U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the Miners Protection Act will prevent miners, retirees, and widows from losing their benefits and pensions at the end of this year. The act is crucial in West Virginia as it would affect thousands that have worked in the mining industry that is a major part of the state’s economy.

“West Virginia’s miners powered our nation and spurred economic growth through their tireless efforts to produce coal for this nation,” Ashely Berrang, communications director for Capito told The West Virginia Record. “Without Congressional action, 22,000 retired miners and their widows will lose their health care benefits beginning at the end of 2016.

"Also, the pension plan that provides benefits to 90,000 current retirees will be insolvent. Thousands of West Virginians would be affected by these changes.”

Under the Miners Protection Act, pension plans will continue to be funded along with health care benefits for miners, retirees and their widows. The proposed $250 million bailout is a result of the lack of funds from the United Mine Workers of America, which saw a loss from a decrease in the coal industry over time. The ability to fund the Miners Protection Act has been proposed to come from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund – a fund that was designated for the revitalization of the coal industry. It has been reported that there is over $1 billion sitting in this fund.

“The Miners Protection Act addresses miners' health care needs and ensures the solvency of the multi-employer pension plan that provides benefits to tens of thousands of retirees,” Berrang said. “It uses un-obligated funds authorized in 2006 to support existing mine worker health and pension programs.”

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin is also supporting Capito in passing the bill that will need to go before President Obama before it makes its way to the miners it seeks to protect. The bill needs passage this year to ensure miners, retirees and widows don’t lose their pension benefits and health care coverage. Congress will have act on the legislation in time to prevent a lapse in benefits from occurring.

The passing of the Miners Protection Act by the Senate Finance Committee was a major step in getting the bill closer to approval. Capito secured the commitment of Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) with proposed markups and has spoken to thousands of miners on the importance of getting the act passed.

Capito says the Miners Protection Act shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Some Republicans are reluctant to back the act as it would show support for unions. Capito has said she will work “tirelessly until the bill crosses the finish line.”

West Virginia leads the nation in coal production, which is one of the primary drivers of the state’s economy.

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