West Virginia’s Congressional leaders will be asked to vote this week on a bill to fund the government through April 2017, but that bill may also be the only hope for thousands of coal miners set to lose their healthcare benefits at the end of the year.
West Virginia Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito have been trying for more than a year to get Congress to pass the Miners Protection Act.
The bill takes money out of a fund used to clean up abandoned mines and puts it into a fund that pays for the pension and healthcare benefits of thousands of coal miners, many right here in West Virginia.
With the decline of the coal industry, however, that fund is quickly running out of money and it will take Congressional intervention to fix it.
But the Miners Protection Act won’t be put to a vote before Congress heads home for their scheduled holiday break this week.
Instead, Sen. Manchin said last week the funding would be added to a continuing resolution that would fund federal government operations through the spring. That resolution must be approved by Friday, when previous funding legislation runs out.
Manchin said, however, it was unlikely funding for both the healthcare and pension pieces would be included.
At a press conference in Charleston Monday morning, Capito said she had not seen the continuing resolution written in the House of Representatives, but that she was fighting for the benefits of more than 16,000 miners and retirees will lose their healthcare at the end of the month if Congress does not step in.
“That’s priority one, I think, is to preserve the healthcare benefits for those that are getting ready to lose it," Capito said.
"We don’t know exactly how this is going to roll out, but it better roll out that those folks are going to get the healthcare that they deserve.”
Capito said if funding to save the pension benefits of retired miners is not included in the federal government funding bill this week, she is committed to returning to them later.