Coal miners press Manchin to back reconciliation bill to extend black lung funding
West Virginia coal miners on Thursday launched a campaign urging Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to support a Democratic budget reconciliation bill that would extend funding for black lung patients.
President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, which Manchin torpedoed late last year, included Manchin’s bill to extend an increased coal excise tax that funds benefits for coal miners suffering from black lung disease.
The higher tax rate expired at the end of last year, bringing uncertainty to a trust fund that provides monthly payments and medical benefits to more than 25,000 miners battling the debilitating disease.
Advocates say that a Democratic reconciliation package is the only major legislative proposal that includes the bill, which would extend the excise tax for 10 years.
“That bill is not going to move. It’s gonna have to be included in a package, and right now this is the only package that has been proposed that would fit this bill,” Courtney Rhoades, an organizer at the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, said during a Thursday press conference in Charleston.
Roughly 1 in 5 coal miners in central Appalachia suffer from black lung disease, advocates say, which is caused by miners inhaling toxic coal and silica dust on the job. Doctors haven’t found a cure to the deadly disease, which slowly cuts off oxygen flow.
As part of their “We’re Counting on You, Joe” campaign, advocates are running digital and radio ads in West Virginia urging Manchin to take action.
“If we don’t get something passed, we’ve got to wait until next year to get something done,” said Gary Hairston, president of the National Black Lung Association. “So we need Joe on board with us today.”
The Department of Labor noted in a memo last month that black lung patients will continue to receive benefits even if the increased excise tax is not extended. But it warned that the Treasury would have to borrow funds to pay for them, meaning that “taxpayers are footing the bill for black lung benefits, not the coal mining industry.”
Advocates say that the trust fund is losing $2.8 million per week without an excise tax extension, and the fund’s mounting debt could cause Congress to cut off miners’ benefits in the future.
“Senator Manchin has led legislation to address the black lung excise tax expiration and will of course continue to work to shore up the black lung excise tax to address the needs of our brave miners,” Manchin spokesperson Sam Runyon told The Hill.
Manchin recently said that he would support a dramatically scaled down reconciliation bill that addresses inflation and the federal deficit and raises corporate taxes. But many Democratic senators aren’t optimistic that anything will pass before Congress leaves for campaign season.
Updated at 3:41 p.m.
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