Sens. Warner, Kaine introduce bill to save miners’ pensions

U.S. Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) recently introduced legislation to shore up pension plans for coal miners, which are currently at risk.

The Miners Pension Protection Act will help fund the 1974 Pension Plan, which is headed for insolvency due to coal company bankruptcies and the 2008 financial crisis.

While the 1974 Pension Plan was well-funded prior to 2008, the financial crisis of 2008 hit at a time when the plan had its highest payment obligations. Sixty percent of the beneficiaries are “orphan” retirees whose employers are no longer in the coal business. These and other factors have placed the pension plan on the road to insolvency, the senators said.

“Virginia’s retired miners have dedicated their lives to power this nation and earned their pensions through a lifetime of hard and dangerous work. But due to financial instability and severe underfunding of the 1974 Pension Plan, these pensions are now in jeopardy,” Warner said. “Congress made a promise to coal miners in 1946. Today, we cannot forsake them or their families. This bipartisan legislation will ensure that tens of thousands of retired coal miners get to keep their pensions.”

If the plan becomes insolvent, these beneficiaries face benefit cuts and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation will assume billions of dollars in liabilities.

“The federal government made a commitment to our miners that their hard-earned pensions would be protected,” Kaine said. “I’m proud to introduce this bill that would uphold this obligation by making reforms to fully fund the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan. Virginia’s miners deserve to know that their pensions will be protected so they can plan ahead and retire with peace of mind.”

The bill would amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to transfer funds in excess of the amounts needed to meet existing obligations under the Abandoned Mine Land Fund to the 1974 Pension Plan to prevent its insolvency.

On May 4, 2017, the Senate passed a portion of the original Miners Protection Act of 2016 (S. 175), securing a permanent health care fix for retired miners who were orphaned by recent coal bankruptcies. It ensured that 22,600 miners did not lose the healthcare benefits that they earned.