Permanent Extension of Funding for Black Lung Disability Trust Fund Secured as Inflation Reduction Act Passes Congress
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 12, 2022
APPALACHIA – Today, after years of fighting for progress, the Black Lung Association and other advocates for miners with black lung and their families celebrated the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. This legislation includes a permanent extension of the Black Lung Excise Tax – an unprecedented investment in the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund that goes above and beyond the 10-year extension fought for by advocates since a full extension of the excise tax expired at the end of 2018 and then again in 2021.
The Black Lung Excise Tax is the single source of revenue for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund (BLDTF) that provides health insurance and a living stipend for miners with black lung and their families. In West Virginia alone, 4,423 miners and their families are currently receiving federal black lung compensation. The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund provided $38 million in black lung compensation to West Virginia miners in 2021, or nearly 25% of the total funds disbursed. Nationally, the fund supports miners and their families in 46 other states as well; over $149 million was paid from this essential fund last year.
This victory comes after four years of effort and ups and downs for the fund, which has created a climate of uncertainty for miners who depend on the fund. Since the expiration of the previous 10-year extension of the Black Lung Excise Tax on December 31, 2018, the Black Lung Association and other advocates for miners with black lung have fought for a long-term extension, with Congress only acting on year to year extensions that have not always matched the historic rate of the tax. In 2019, the tax was collected at half the rate while single year extensions for 2020 and 2021 were at the full, historic rate. The rate was reduced in half again at the beginning of 2022. Earlier this year, the National Black Lung Association and 67 other organizations sent a letter to congressional leadership urging immediate action to provide a long-term extension of the Black Lung Excise Tax while advocates launched the “We’re Counting on You, Joe” campaign in May to urge Senator Manchin to fight for progress on the issue.
Advocates released the following statements in response:
“We told Senator Manchin we were counting on him to protect our black lung benefits, and today he proved that he was listening. The Black Lung Association is grateful for Senator Manchin’s work to fight for miners and our families in West Virginia and across coal country. This permanent extension of the excise tax on coal gives us a level of security we’ve never had before.” – Gary Hairston, President, National Black Lung Association (Fayette County, WV)
“This permanent extension ensures that miners and families impacted by black lung don’t ever have to worry about another fight with Congress on this issue again. We are proud to thank Senator Manchin and Leader Schumer for fighting for this vitally important policy and honoring the miners and their families who sacrificed so much to power our country for generations.” – Rebecca Shelton, Director of Policy and Organizing, Appalachian Citizens Law Center
“This is really important to us and to every coal miner. [Black lung] doesn’t get any better – it gets worse. As long as you’re working in the mines and you’re in there digging the coal, bringing tons and tons of coal out – well they’re patting you on the back and saying ‘good job.’ But, when you get sick and cannot work anymore, you’re just a number….What about the coal miner that sacrifices his life and his health to run America?” – Vonda Robinson, Vice President, National Black Lung Association
“This is a huge victory for every miner and mining family that is worried about how to pay for their bills and medication in light of the uncertainty around the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. Thanks to the leadership of Senator Manchin and Leader Schumer, these families will have the stability they deserve.” – Chelsea Barnes, Legislative Director, Appalachian Voices
Coal miners who are disabled from black lung, as well their surviving dependents, are entitled by law to modest living and medical benefits. The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund pays for these benefits in cases where the miners’ employer has gone bankrupt or where no coal company can be identified as responsible for the miner’s disease.
The trust fund is more important now than ever because a wave of bankruptcies in the coal industry has created increased pressure on the program. It is supported by a small excise tax paid by companies per ton of coal sold domestically, at a rate that was unchanged for more than three decades: $0.55/ ton of surface mined coal, and $1.10/ ton of coal mined underground.
In 2018, the excise tax was reduced and collected at less than 50% of its historic rate for the entirety of 2019, pushing the BLDTF deeper into debt. In 2019 and 2020, the higher, historic rate of the excise tax was reinstated through one-year tax extender bills, but the rate was cut in half again at the end of last year because Congress failed to act. The extension in the Inflation Reduction Act provides longer-term security for the fund, and for the miners who depend on it compared to short-term, one-year extensions.