Fundraising effort will support July lobbying trip | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth
Release Date: 
Thursday, June 20, 2019
Press Contact: 
Eric Dixon
Senior Coordinator of Policy and Community Engagement, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center

Fundraising effort will support July lobbying trip
Miners to ask lawmakers to reinstate funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund

In July, more than 100 coal miners, widows and loved ones, including many from Kentucky, will travel to Washington, D.C. to demand that congressional leaders take action to reinstate the excise fee that supports the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.

Because extraordinary steps must be taken to protect some of the very sick men traveling across the country in the summer heat, the cost for the upcoming trip is significant. A crowdfunding effort has been launched to help support those who have committed to travel.

Today, the U.S. House Energy & Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections held a hearing on the Black Lung epidemic. Rates of black lung disease have hit a 25-year high in Appalachian coal mining states, and have reached epidemic levels in coal communities across the nation. One in five veteran working coal miners in Central Appalachia now has this fatal and incurable disease, according to the CDC’s National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Since 2000, the rate of black lung disease has doubled across the United States.

“Black lung was in my family before I was ever born. I was raised up in black lung. My father had it, and my two grandfathers,” said Joanne Hill, who grew up in Harlan County and was in Washington earlier this week to lobby on Black Lung and the RECLAIM Act. “Until I got old enough to know better, I thought black lung was a cousin, we talked about it so much.”

But even as Congress grapples with this alarming trend, it is failing the miners who gave their lives to the coalfields. Miners and their widows who are able to prove that they are disabled from black lung are entitled, by law, to modest living and medical benefits – after what can be an excruciating legal process that sometimes outlasts the life of the miner. The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund pays for benefits to coal miners and their surviving dependents in cases where the miners’ employer has gone bankrupt or not been found responsible. But because of congressional inaction, this Trust Fund is in jeopardy.

This Trust Fund is supported by a small excise fee paid by companies per ton on coal sold domestically, at a rate unchanged for more than three decades. But Congress failed to extend the tax rate before the end of 2018, and it has now been cut by more than half. This gift to the coal industry will create a long-term financial crisis for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund unless it’s corrected.

A May 2018 Government Accountability Office report projects that, at the slashed tax rate that went into effect on January 1, the Trust Fund’s revenue will be unable to cover beneficiary payments and administrative costs as soon as 2020 (p16).

The Trust Fund is more important now than ever, not just because of the sharp resurgence of black lung among coal miners, but because a wave of bankruptcies in the coal industry is creating increased pressure. In 2017 alone, more than 2,500 black lung claims were transferred to the Trust Fund due to coal company bankruptcies. 

This safety net, meant to help alleviate the harm from black lung when coal companies go bankrupt, is itself in danger of insolvency. Congress must support the American Miners Act and pass a 10-year extension of this tax at current levels to fund this essential revenue stream.