W.Va. Senators Applaud Committee Passage of Miner Protection Act
A federal bill to protect the pensions and health care benefits of thousands of retired miners is one step closer to becoming law.
Both of West Virginia’s senators are urging its passage by the end of the year.
The Miners Protection Act passed out of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee on an 18-8 vote Wednesday.
Sen. Joe Manchin introduced the bill last summer to help shore up what he calls a “promise made to coal miners and their families in 1946.”
The bill would take money from a federal fund to clean up abandoned mine sites and transfer it to a fund that helps pay for the pensions and health care benefits of retired miners and their families. That fund has taken a hit with the decline in the coal industry.
Without additional funding, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said 16,000 retired miners would lose their benefits by the end of the year and another 7,000 by July.
“We know this is the first step, but it’s a very significant first step to get it out of committee in a bi-partisan way,” Capito said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday. She added the bill had passed out of the committee with more votes than anticipated.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has not said whether he’ll bring the bill to a vote in the full chamber, but Capito believes it will be taken up by the end of the year.
In a written statement Wednesday, United Miner Workers of America International President Cecil Roberts said:
"It has been a long fight to gain a congressional committee's approval of this critical legislation...Now that this important first step has been achieved, it is vital that Congress move as quickly as possible to finally pass this legislation that will mean so much to the lives of thousands of senior citizens across America. There is no more time to waste."