The U.S. House of Representatives did its turn to help coal miners suffering from black lung disease; now it is the Senate’s turn to act. On November 19, the House narrowly passed the Build Back Better Act – a highly touted $1.7 trillion social spending and climate initiative championed by President Biden.
Within this comprehensive package that addresses issues such as affordable housing, climate change and free preschool includes a provision geared toward helping coal miners stricken with an illness that commonly leads to severe disability and death.
1 in 5 Appalachian coal miners have black lung
The provision noted above would extend the coal excise tax for four years. This tax funds the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, upon which many miners with black lung rely for monthly benefits and health care costs.
Black lung is a serious epidemic in coal-mining regions. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, roughly 10% of underground coal miners across the country who have worked for at least 25 years in mines suffer from the debilitating disease.
However, that number is doubled among coal miners in central Appalachia. Here 1 in 5 reportedly have black lung. This represents the highest such level in 25 years.
It’s too soon to really applaud the House’s action as the Senate must now take up the bill. Some Senators remain optimistic about the Build Back Better Act, but a high number of edits and changes are likely on the table before it would be passed.
Lawmakers are listening
However, this development does represent a small win in knowing that U.S. lawmakers continue to listen to the needs of coal miners and their loved ones. Black lung sufferers need these funds to help support their families and to pay for the medical expenses attributed to this terrible disease.