Funding for coal miners with black lung disease was cut when Build Back Better failed

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Miners in an underground coal mine in West Virginia, 2006. - Chuck Holton/Flickr

Miners in an underground coal mine in West Virginia, 2006.

Chuck Holton/Flickr

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A federal fund that pays benefits to Indiana coal miners with black lung disease and their survivors is struggling. When Congress failed to pass the Build Back Better Act by the end of last year, it neglected to extend an excise tax on coal sold in the United States – which is the main source of income from the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.

Vonda Robinson is vice president of the National Black Lung Association. She said money from the fund pays for the prescriptions her husband takes for black lung disease. But without that?

“We would be looking at $6,000 per month. There’s no way we can afford that,” Robinson said.

More than 60 groups have signed a letter urging Congress to pass a bill to extend the tax rate for 10 years to give security to coal miners and their families.

Rebecca Shelton of the Appalachian Citizens Law Center said coal companies are generally responsible for paying those benefits — the trust fund is only meant to serve as a backup.

“This is more important than ever as a wave of coal industry bankruptcies and trust fund liability shifts become more common,” she said.

READ MORE: Indiana coal company files for bankruptcy, lays off employees

The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund has paid out more than $2 million to Indiana coal miners and their families in 2021.

Black lung disease is on the rise in the United States. The severe black lung in Appalachia is the highest it has ever been – likely because miners have to drill deeper into the rock to find coal, inhaling more dust.

Contact journalist Rebecca at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Indiana’s environmental reports are supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project that develops Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to environmental change issues .

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