Black Lung Organizer Courtney Rhoades was interviewed for this article.
“’Since the pandemic, we’ve seen more individuals coming into the office for benefits,’ she said. ‘If coal shut down now, we’d see cases for twenty years down the road.’
The black lung benefits system itself has long been documented as complex and difficult to navigate, with medical diagnosis difficult to obtain under laws that favor doctors paid for by coal companies. Benefits are limited to between $693 for one primary beneficiary, and $1,387 for a beneficiary with three or more dependents. The most valuable benefit — medical coverage for black lung treatments — is one that some miners report not receiving notice of, even after winning their claim. A complaint about this practice has been filed by West Virginia miner Christopher Godfrey together with his attorney Sam Petsonk.
While Hairston, Rhoades, and their allies believe in advocating for heavier government oversight of the program and more generous benefits to keep up with inflation, they feel like they’re left stuck in the position of fighting every few years for renewal of the tax rate, as coal companies continue to go bankrupt and the black lung epidemic rages on.”