Skip to content

Bill would ensure every coal miner who suffers from black lung disease receives the benefits they are entitled to

Since 1968, more than 76,000 people have died from as a result of ‘Black Lung’ disease

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), John Fetterman (D-PA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) and U.S. Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA-3) introduced the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act to help miners who have suffered from ‘black lung’ disease and their survivors access the workers compensation they are entitled to receive under the Black Lung Benefits Program. This legislation would ease the burdens preventing miners and their survivors from accessing the totality of their benefits such as lengthy processing times, lack of a legal representative, and inflation.

“Coal miners have moved our Nation forward for generations, risking their lives and their long-term health to power our factories and heat our homes,” said Senator Casey. “This bill will ensure that every coal miner that is suffering from black lung disease receives the benefits they are entitled to. Coal miners have risked their lives for our Nation and I’ll keep fighting to make sure they aren’t left behind.”

“Decades ago, Congress established the Black Lung Benefits Act to provide monthly compensation and medical coverage for coal miners who develop black lung disease and are totally disabled. Unfortunately, a 2009 GAO report found that miners often lack the necessary medical and legal resources to develop evidence to prove their claims,” said Ranking Member Scott (D-VA), House Committee on Education and the Workforce.  “The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act helps miners and their survivors access legal representation, ensures benefits are not eroded due to inflation, reduces the time for processing claims, and protects taxpayers from taking a hit when a self-insured coal company goes bankrupt and cannot pay black lung claims.”

“Coal miners do some of the toughest work on earth and have played a critical role in Pennsylvania’s regional economy and powering our nation. We cannot turn our backs on them now as they deal with the fallout of extreme occupational hazards,” said Senator Fetterman. “This bill will help coal miners affected by Black Lung access the benefits they’re owed and deliver justice and care for people across Appalachia.”

“Ohio miners put their health at risk to power our country,” said Senator Brown. “They’ve suffered enough. They shouldn’t have to navigate an endless claims process riddled with red tape just to get the benefits they have earned.”

“Many of our nation’s miners have developed black lung disease, and we owe it to them to provide them with the care and support they need,” said Senator Kaine. “The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act is critical to helping more miners, miner retirees, and their families receive the benefits and compensation they’ve earned following their tremendous sacrifices.”

“For generations, coal miners across Virginia have made tremendous sacrifices to power America, literally risking their lives and their health to electrify our nation,” said Senator Warner. “Miners living with black lung and their survivors need easy access to the benefits they’ve earned – but far too often, red tape gets in the way. The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act would take important steps to make sure miners can access legal representation, have protection against inflation, and more so America can keep making good on the debt it owes to victims of black lung.”

“For generations, our brave West Virginia coal miners have risked their lives and health to power this nation to greatness. As a result of their enormous sacrifices, many unfortunately suffer from Black Lung Disease,” said Senator Manchin. “We must work together to ensure every miner has access to the vital medical care they have earned, which is why I am proud to reintroduce the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act with my colleagues to help expand access to these critical benefits. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this important legislation and I will continue working to ensure our coal miners are not left behind.”

“I express my gratitude to Senator Casey for reintroducing the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act (BLBIA). As I have emphasized previously, over the past century, more than one hundred thousand coal miners have tragically succumbed to the painful effects of Black Lung disease, a consequence of their exposure to respirable dust in their workplace. Moreover, there is a concerning surge in black lung cases, particularly among younger miners, largely attributed to the heightened presence of silica dust in the mine atmosphere,” said UMWA President Cecil Roberts. “This Act establishes a new framework for determining benefit levels, incorporating annual adjustments based on the cost of living. It is imperative for Congress to swiftly enact the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act, ensuring that miners, who have devoted their lives to working in the mines, receive the deserved black lung benefits.”

Many developed coal workers’ pneumoconiosis—commonly referred to as “black lung”—a debilitating and deadly disease caused by the long-term inhalation of coal dust in underground and surface coal mines. In response, Congress established the Black Lung Benefits Act in 1976 to provide monthly compensation and medical coverage for coal miners who develop black lung disease and are totally disabled. The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act makes needed updates to ensure Congress is fulfilling its commitment to the Nation’s coal miners by:

  • Restoring lost cost-of-living benefit increases for black lung beneficiaries and ensuring cost-of-living increases are never withheld in the future.
  • Helping claimants secure legal representation by providing interim attorney fees if miners prevail at various stages of their claim.
  • Allowing miners or their survivors to reopen their cases if they had been denied because of medical interpretations that have subsequently been discredited.
  • Prohibiting unethical conduct by attorneys and doctors in the black lung claims process and helping miners review and rebut potentially biased or inaccurate medical evidence developed by coal companies.

Senator Casey has been a consistent fighter for miners’ benefits, pushing for protections to miners’ pensions and health care amid widespread coal company bankruptcies and working to ensure a permanent health care fix for retired coal miners and their families. Earlier this year, Casey joined colleagues to urge the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to evaluate the adequacy of black lung benefits to ensure they meet the income and health care needs of disabled miners and their families.

Last year, he led his colleagues to introduce the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act, legislation to make needed updates to the Black Lung Benefits Act to ensure Congress is fulfilling its commitment to the nation’s coal miners. To help fulfill those promises, in August of 2022, Congress approved a permanent extension of the black lung excise tax to fund the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund that provides health insurance and a living stipend for those impacted by black lung as part of the Inflation Reduction Act.

Casey supports the Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposal by its Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to amend current federal standards to better protect the nation’s miners from health hazards related to exposure to respirable crystalline silica, or silica dust. Prior to the announcement of the proposal, he sent a letter to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Shalanda Young, seeking additional information on the delayed announcement of a new silica standard for miners across America and urging prompt promulgation. In July of this year, Casey joined his colleagues to introduce the Relief for Survivors of Miners Act to make it easier for miners’ survivors to successfully claim benefits.

The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act is endorsed by United Mineworkers (UMWA), Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center (UCLC), and Appalachian Voices.

Read more about the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act here.