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9/25/2004

UMWA Supports HR 3796

For Immediate ReleaseFebruary 12, 2004Contact: Doug Gibson(703) 208-7241

United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil Roberts Hails Introduction of Legislation By Reps. Rahall and Cubin to Extend America's Vital Abandoned Mine Reclamation Program and Ensure the Federal Government Keeps Its Promise to America's Coal Miners of Lifetime Health Care Benefits
Legislation Provides Long-Term Coal Act Funding Solution


United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International President Cecil Roberts is hailing the introduction of legislation (H.R. 3796) yesterday by Reps. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.) that would extend funding for America's vital abandoned mine reclamation program for another 15 years. More important to the UMWA, the legislation also contains a long-term financial solution to the ongoing financial crisis at the UMWA's Combined Benefit Fund, which was created by the Coal Industry Retiree Health benefit Act of 1992 (Coal Act) to administer lifetime health care benefits to retired UMWA coal miners and their dependents. The Coal Act affirmed–and made into law–a 1946 agreement between President Harry S. Truman and UMWA President John L. Lewis that promised UMWA coal miners and their dependents cradle-to-grave health care coverage.

"UMWA members nationwide are very thankful today," said Roberts. "Since Congress passed the Coal Act in 1992, it has been an almost constant battle to ensure the Combined Benefit Fund had the finances needed to ensure the government's promise to coal miners of lifetime health care benefits is kept." He continued, "Just a few weeks ago, the Bush Administration and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) helped avert a severe funding crisis by announcing that a pilot Medicare prescription drug program covering UMWA beneficiaries was being extended to September 2005. This decision allocated an additional $190 million to cover beneficiary drug costs–and that was great–but it is only a short-term fix to the ongoing problem. The UMWA has repeatedly called for a long-term solution to the Combined Benefit Fund financial crisis, and we have been joined in that call by Democrats, Republicans and the Bush Administration. We now have a piece of legislation that contains the long-term fix everyone agrees is needed, and I am hopeful the bill will be passed expeditiously."

Roberts explained that the long-term funding solution in the Rahall-Cubin legislation is based largely on language contained in Rahall and Rep. Bob Ney's (R-Ohio) "Coal Accountability and Retired Employees Act for the 21st Century," or (CARE 21), which passed in the House in October 2002 with strong bi-partisan support. Unfortunately, time ran out before CARE 21 could be introduced in the Senate. Like in the CARE 21 legislation, the Rahall-Cubin bill would lift a restriction mandating the transfer of AML funds just for certain beneficiaries, allowing the government to transfer funds to offset Combined Benefit Fund deficits and prevent a cut in benefits.

"This legislation will allow us to keep the promise to retired coal miners and their dependents while continuing to ensure the money is there to clean up the nation's abandoned coal mines," explained Roberts. "It is a win-win solution for retired miners and America's coalfield communities."
Roberts acknowledged the introduction last week of the Bush Administration's bill to extend the AML program, but he said the UMWA had problems with certain elements of the legislation.
"Primarily, the Administration bill would not have lifted the restriction that AML interest transfers can be used solely for one group of beneficiaries, as opposed to going to help offset any and all deficits," said Roberts. "That was worrisome to us because it would not have helped us reach the desired goal of finding a long-term solution to this problem."

Roberts said the UMWA will be mobilizing its members like never before to get behind the Rahall-Cubin legislation.

"In the past two UMWA conventions, our delegates have made protecting the Coal Act and finding a long-term solution to the funding problem the union's number-one priority," said Roberts. "We now have a legislative vehicle to accomplish that goal, and we will be rallying our troops as never before."

Roberts also appealed to members of Congress from both parties to get behind the legislation.

"In the past few weeks, we've heard not only our long-time friends on Capitol Hill–both Democrat and Republican–calling for a long-term solution to this problem, but also the Bush Administration as well," said Roberts. "Now is the time. Let's get it done!"


For Immediate ReleaseMarch 22, 2004
Contact: Doug Gibson(703) 208-7241
United Mine Workers Of America International President Cecil Roberts To Meet With Retired and Active Miners And Their Dependents To Discuss Status Of The Coal Act
UMWA Launching Campaign This Year To Win Passage Of Legislation That Provides A Long-Term Solution To The Coal Act's Historic Funding Problems


On Thursday, March 25, nearly 1,000 retired and active coal miners and their dependents are expected to fill the Lakeside Party Center in McClellandtown, Pa., to hear United Mine Workers of America International (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts discuss the status of the federal Coal Industry Retiree Health Benefit Act of 1992, or the Coal Act. At the meeting, which begins at 9 a.m., Roberts will also lay out the union's campaign to get legislation passed that will provide a long-term solution to the Coal Act's historic funding problems.
In advance of the meeting, Roberts said, "I am excited to meet with our active and retired miners and their dependents because for the first time since the Act began experiencing funding problems, I will be able to talk with them about a very real solution to the problem."

Roberts is referring to H.R. 3796 and S. 2211, two companion bills recently introduced by Reps. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va) and Barbara Cubin (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va) that will provide a long-term solution the Coal Act's funding problems. In addition, the legislation will ensure that America's vital abandoned mine reclamation program will continue well past its scheduled September 2004 expiration date.

"The Rahall-Cubin bill is a win-win for the nation's coalfield communities," explained Roberts. "It ensures that there is money available to clean up the nation's abandoned mine sites until the year 2019, and it provides sufficient resources to shore up the Coal Act's finances. This is a long-term solution to the funding problems."
Roberts explained that the UMWA's friends in Congress, led by Sens. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Rockefeller and Reps. Rahall (D-W.Va) and Bob Ney (R-Ohio), repeatedly have come to the rescue and found emergency funding and other ways to keep the Coal Act solvent. He also noted that the White House and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) recently worked with the union to find a temporary solution to the funding crisis.

With their help, a pilot Medicare prescription drug program covering UMWA beneficiaries–originally negotiated by Sen. Rockefeller–was extended to September 2005. Roberts cautioned, however, that as great as all this help has been, it is past time for a long-term solution.

"It seems that nearly every year, our retirees and widows, whose average age is now 80, have to live in fear that their promised health care benefits will be cut," said Roberts. "This is wrong. These benefits were promised to them by the federal government, and these upstanding citizens–who have given much to this great nation–should not have to constantly fight to keep them. There is a legitimate, bi-partisan solution to this problem in Congress, and we intend–with the help of not only our retirees and widows but also our active miners and our other supporters–to see that it gets passed. This is the year we need to get this done–once and for all."

Background
Coal miners were promised cradle-to-grave health care benefits in 1946 as part of an agreement between President Harry S. Truman and UMWA President John L. Lewis. The promise has been reaffirmed in contract after contract between miners and the coal industry.

In 1992, the U.S. Congress enacted the Coal Act to codify the promise into law. UMWA retirees did their part by giving up more than $200 million in pension benefits to help establish and finance the Combined Benefit Fund (CBF) to administer the benefits. With bi-partisan support, the legislation passed and was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush.

Since the Coal Act became law in 1992, it has been an almost constant battle to keep it funded. Bankrupt coal operators, adverse court rulings and other external factors have slowly eaten away at the funding mechanisms that ensure full health care coverage for retired coal miners and their dependents. For years, the UMWA has battled in the courts and on Capitol Hill to keep the Coal Act funded.

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