Release Date: 
Saturday, September 15, 2018
Press Contact: 
Carl Shoupe
KFTC leader
(606) 848-0555

Benham is first Kentucky city to pass black lung fund resolution
Action supports miners, their families and communities

The Benham City Council (Harlan County) is the first local government in Kentucky to pass a local resolution calling on members of Congress to pass three bills needed to help sick, disabled, retired and unemployed coal workers and their families and communities. Benham’s city government took the unanimous action at its monthly meeting on September 13.

Advocates hope other local governments may soon follow Benham’s example. A similar resolution was adopted several weeks ago in Virginia by the City of Big Stone Gap.

“I’m personally so happy that our city is trying to move forward and protect our miners and our community,” said disabled miner and Benham resident Carl Shoupe. “And I hope this action lights a fire.”

The resolution passed in Benham urges Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, along with the six U.S. representatives from Kentucky, to strengthen funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. That federal fund provides benefits to miners who worked for coal companies that have gone bankrupt.

A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that the long-term financial health of fund is poor as more miners are getting sick with the disease and more coal companies are going bankrupt.

Making matters worse, the fee that provides revenue for the fund, which is paid by the coal industry, is scheduled to drop by 55 percent on January 1, 2019 unless Congress takes action to keep it at its current level.

The local resolution based by Benham also urges Kentucky’s representatives in Congress to support and help pass the RECLAIM Act (H.R. 1731), legislation sponsored by Rep. Hal Rogers, who represents Kentucky’s 5th District. That bipartisan bill would help revitalize coal communities in eastern and western Kentucky by directing $1 billion to be invested in the reclamation of abandoned mine lands and in long-term economic development initiatives over the next five years. 

Lastly, the resolution urges Congressional support for the bipartisan American Miners Pension Act (H.R. 3913/S. 1911), which ensures that the UMWA’s 1974 Pension Plan can continue to provide the pensions retired miners or their surviving spouses have earned. That federal fund also exists to provide pensions to miners who worked for companies that have since gone bankrupt, and it is at risk of becoming insolvent by 2022.

An effort to pass similar local resolutions across Kentucky is being spearheaded by affected miners, family members and residents, many of whom are members of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth. Advocates point to a similar effort in 2015-2016, when 28 local governments and organizations in four central Appalachian states passed resolutions calling on Congress to pass the RECLAIM Act and Miners Protection Act. That display of public support helped encourage Rep. Rogers to sponsor the RECLAIM Act in the House, and Senator McConnell to introduce a version of the bill in the Senate. Eventually, McConnell also helped secure health benefits for retired miners, but left their pension issue unresolved.

Now is the time, KFTC members in Benham say, for Kentucky’s leaders in Congress to finish the job by passing these three important Just Transition measures before the year ends.