Stand up now for our miners

In little more than a week, thousands of retired coal miners and their families will lose their health insurance unless Congress does something to prevent it. Lawmakers, prodded if necessary by President Donald Trump, should view action as an obligation.

Estimates of the number of people affected vary. One is that the crisis affects about 22,000 retired miners, along with many members of their families.

None of the blame for the problem rests on the retirees themselves. They had every reason to believe that once they ended their working careers, they would be assured of health insurance. They earned it through hard work, literally with every ton of coal they dug to power America’s factories and light the nation’s homes.

Through an agreement many years ago between the United Mine Workers union and coal operators, specified amounts were set aside from the profits on every ton of coal produced. The money was to fund pensions and health care for retirees. The federal government played a role in making that arrangement.

For decades, it worked well. But then, just a few years ago, mines began closing down by the dozens. Thousands of miners were laid off. Coal shipments declined precipitously, and so did payments into the fund for retirees. A substantial amount of that decline is traceable to government action.

Without some sort of federal intervention, the health insurance fund will go broke within weeks.

Just before Christmas, Congress approved stopgap action to bail out the health insurance program. But that help expires April 28.

Members of Congress from West Virginia and Ohio, both Republicans and Democrats, have united in an appeal to congressional leaders to adopt a permanent bailout plan for the retired miners. It is expected to come up in both the Senate and House of Representatives next week.

Incredibly, some lawmakers want another temporary approach to the issue. Americans owe mine retirees more than continued uncertainty and worry.

“This nation was built on the backs of our workers,” West Virginia lawmakers wrote in a letter to congressional leaders. “Let us not forsake them.”

Exactly. While laboring in the mines, often for decades, the now-retired workers did not leave their fellow Americans out in the cold — quite literally.

Doing so to them over their health insurance now would be a national shame.


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