Senators Release Letter Urging Trump to Protect Coal Miner’s Pensions
Washington, D.C. – Nearly ten days after writing to President-Elect Donald Trump with no response, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) are renewing their call to Republicans to keep their promise to save coal miner’s pensions. Days ago, the Senators sent a letter to President-Elect Donald Trump, urging him to uphold his promise of helping coal miners across the country and call on Republican leadership in the House and Senate to pass the Miners Protection Act of 2016.
Despite bipartisan support of the legislation that would allow coal miners to permanently retain their promised healthcare and pensions, Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan refuse to bring this legislation to the floor. Instead, Republican leadership included a proposal that does nothing to protect pensions, and will extend health coverage for so short a time that recipients would be notified almost simultaneously that they are both eligible for benefits and that their benefits will terminate. Unless action is taken in the last two weeks of the Congressional session then thousands of additional retired coal miners and their families will soon lose their health benefits and see their pensions endangered.
“During your campaign for the presidency, you vowed to restore and improve the livelihoods of coal miners across the country,” Senators wrote to the President-Elect. “Without immediate action on the Miners Protection Act of 2016 (S. 3470), our miners and their families will be left without the essential healthcare benefits they earned through a lifetime of hard work and will have their pensions imperiled.”
Retired miners are facing uncertainty because the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) 1974 Pension Plan is severely underfunded. Unlike other public and private pension plans, the 1974 Pension Plan was well-managed and funded prior to the 2008 financial crisis, which hit at a time when this Plan had its highest payment obligations. This – coupled with the fact that 60% of the beneficiaries are “orphan” retirees whose employers are no longer in the coal business, and the fact that there are only 10,000 active workers for 120,000 retirees – has placed the Plan on the road to insolvency. If the Plan becomes insolvent, these beneficiaries face benefit cuts and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation will assume billions of dollars in liabilities.
The full text of the letter is below.
Dear President-elect Trump:
During your campaign for the presidency, you vowed to restore and improve the livelihoods of coal miners across the country. We write today to highlight the pending loss of the pensions and healthcare benefits of thousands of coal miners due to the inaction of Republican leadership in Congress, and to urge you to intervene on their behalf, in accordance with your campaign promises.
We ask you exercise leadership to help thousands of coal miners in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, Ohio, Illinois and across the country retain their promised healthcare and pension. Without immediate action on the Miners Protection Act of 2016 (S. 3470), our miners and their families will be left without the essential healthcare benefits they earned through a lifetime of hard work and will have their pensions imperiled. Despite being passed the Senate Finance Committee by a bipartisan vote of 18 to 8, Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan refuse to bring this legislation to the floor for a vote or to attach it to other moving vehicles.
As of today, over 16,100 of our nation’s retired coal miners received healthcare termination notices. The funding to provide healthcare promised by the coal companies will be exhausted by the end of the year. Next year, 6,500 more will receive that same letter. The pension fund that our miners, their widows and families rely on for basic necessities, will be at risk of insolvency at the beginning of next year. That means pensions for 27,391 miners in West Virginia, 12,951 miners in Pennsylvania, 9,511 miners in Kentucky, 8,810 miners in Ohio, 8,807 miners in Illinois, 7,507 miners in Virginia, and over 89,000 miners nationwide are at risk. The Miners Protection Act of 2016 must pass by the end of this year to protect tens of thousands of coal miners from losing their healthcare and pension.
For over a year, we have tried to move this bipartisan legislation forward, yet the House and the Senate, which Congressional Republicans control, have refused to bring this measure up for a vote. Time is running out for our miners. Action cannot wait, nor does it need to. There are two vehicles to which the Miners Protection Act could be passed before the end of the year to ensure its critical enactment into law, the 21st Century Cures Act or the Continuing Resolution. It is unconscionable for your Republican Congressional leadership to refuse to add this legislation to either of the last two moving pieces of legislation for the year.
Rank and file members of both parties have called for passage of the Miners Protection Act repeatedly over the course of the year, only to be met with stonewalling and delay from Republican leadership. We urge you call on Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan to take immediate steps to ensure passage of the bill on one of the few remaining vehicles available to Congress before the end of the year.
The health benefits and pensions of thousands of hard working coal miners hang in the balance. Democrats have done their part. It is time for Republican leadership to do the same.
 See sample notice dated October 5, 2016 from Patriot Retirees Voluntary Employees’ Beneficiary Association.