WASHINGTON (WJHL) — Several U.S. senators including Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) on Monday urged the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to re-evaluate the adequacy of black lung benefits in order to better serve disabled miners and their families.

According to a release from Warner’s office, a letter was sent to the comptroller general of the United States explaining how essential a study of black lung benefits could be to improving policy aimed at helping coal miners in the Appalachian region.

“Many recipients of black lung benefits are living month-to-month on limited and fixed incomes,” the senators wrote. “Though this has historically been true, many miners sick with black lung disease who are applying for benefits today are contracting the disease at a much earlier age. These benefits, therefore, are not just supplementing an early retirement—they are replacing an income for many years that may need to support children and a household, aging or sick parents, and college and retirement.”

Some black lung benefit recipients have been subjected to legal challenges after being awarded benefits, the release said. The benefits are reportedly frequently appealed by employers, and if the benefits are overturned, recipients are forced to pay back the money, according to the release.

The senators who signed the letter want the proposed study on black lung benefits to ask the following questions:

  1. What are the state and federal disability benefits that coal miners and their families can receive as a result of black lung?
  2. What challenges have miners and their families faced in obtaining black lung disability benefits, including but not limited to recoupment?
  3. How do these benefits affect the health and financial well-being of miners and their families, and what, if any, changes are needed?

“The black lung benefits system was created over fifty years ago and since its creation has served as a lifeline for so many mining families,” said Rebecca Shelton, director of policy for Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center. “But a lot can change in fifty years. We know that the cost of living has increased, that more miners have severe forms of the disease, and that miners are getting sick at younger ages. This GAO study asks critical questions to determine whether the benefits system is still adequately serving families in spite of these and many other changes and will ensure that the benefits system continues to serve mining families as it was meant to.”

In addition to Warner and Kaine, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), and John Fetterman (D-PA) signed the letter, according to the release.

The full letter can be found on Warner’s website.