After GAO Report, Rep. Cartwright Calls for Urgent Action to Replenish Black Lung Trust Fund
WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released to the public a dire report regarding the sustainability of the federal Black Lung Trust Fund, which covers medical and living expenses for former coal mine workers who have the devastating and potentially deadly disease of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (also known as black lung disease).
The Trust Fund is supported through a tax on coal companies that is scheduled to be drastically cut at the end of this year. GAO was asked to review the financial positon of the Trust Fund and identify options to improve it. What the agency found is that, even though demand for benefits is expected to grow in the coming years, the Fund is facing possible deficits of $15 billion by 2050 – unless Congress takes action to prevent the shortfall.
“We should fix this problem during the current Congress, which means now,” Congressman Cartwright said. “The best way to ensure that benefits continue to be paid to those who need them is to make this Fund solvent and keep it solvent.”
Under current law, contributions to the Trust Fund by coal company operations will be reduced by 55% at the end of 2018. General Funds to make up for deficits in the Trust Fund’s operations are subject to annual spending deficit negotiations and agreements between the House, Senate, and the president.
“The 25,700 people who receive support from the Black Lung Trust Fund need certainty,” Cartwright added. “We should not allow the Fund’s insolvency to rise to a critical level and then dump that crisis on all taxpayers for emergency action. All the options then are bad.”
Congressman Cartwright, along with Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03) and Senator Bob Casey, has also proposed sweeping reforms to black lung benefits in the form of the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2017, H.R. 1912. This bill would improve miners’ access to medical evidence regarding claims, adjust benefits for inflation, provide miners’ with better representation during the claim process, and reduce the backlog of benefits claims.
“Congress and the Administration should reauthorize and strengthen the Black Lung Program, not let it wither,” said Cartwright. “And reauthorizing provides us with the opportunity to revitalize former coal communities and address related issues such as dangerous and hazardous abandoned mines.”
You can view the full GAO report, “Black Lung Benefits Program: Options for Improving Trust Fund Finances,” here.