Health benefits restored for retired coal miners

Members of the United Mine Workers of America at a news conference on the proposed Miners Protection Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 26, 2017. (Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times)

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Members of the United Mine Workers of America at a news conference on the proposed Miners Protection Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, April 26, 2017. (Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times)

$1.3B measure impacts 22,000, including 322 in Ohio.

A spending bill headed for congressional approval will guarantee permanent health care benefits for 22,000 retired coal miners and their dependents on the verge of losing their coverage by the end of the week, Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman said Monday.

Although lawmakers still have to approve a solution to salvage the coal miners threatened pensions, the announcement Monday means they will have the health benefits for life. It impacts about 332 retired miners or dependents in Ohio.

The $1.3 billion for the next 10 years was included in the $1 trillion spending bill that would keep the federal government open until the end of September. Congress is expected to pass the spending bill this week.

“It’s a huge victory for the coal miners,” Brown, D-Ohio, said on CNN Monday. In a statement, Portman, R-Ohio, said: “These miners worked hard, played by the rules, and were promised these health care benefits, which — without this agreement — they would lose.

Last year, a Senate committee approved a bill that would have protected the miners’ pensions and health benefits. But today’s spending bill only includes money for the health benefits, although Brown said Senate Finance Committee Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has pledged to devise a solution this year for the pensions.

“We’ve got more work to do to ensure that these miners have access to the pensions they’ve earned,” Brown said in a statement.

The United Mine Workers’ pensions and health benefits were put in jeopardy because some coal companies dropped their coverage after filing for bankruptcy.

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