WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright said “a dire report” released last week shows the Black Lung Trust Fund could face possible deficits of $15 billion by 2050.
The federal fund 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.
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,” Cartwright, D-Moosic, 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.”
The trust fund is supported through a tax on coal companies that is scheduled to be drastically cut at the end of this year. The Government Accountability Office was asked to review the financial position of the fund and identify options to improve it.
Under current law, contributions to the fund by coal company operations will be reduced by 55 percent at the end of 2018.
“The 25,700 people who receive support from the Black Lung Trust Fund need certainty,” Cartwright said. “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.”
Cartwright, along with U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, of Virginia, and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, has also proposed sweeping reforms to black lung benefits in the form of the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2017. Cartwright said 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 benefit claims.
“Congress and the Administration should reauthorize and strengthen the Black Lung Program, not let it wither,” Cartwright said. “And reauthorizing provides us with the opportunity to revitalize former coal communities and address related issues such as dangerous and hazardous abandoned mines.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.