Black lung sufferers implore Congress to save benefits fund

Washington D.C. Bureau

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Black lung disease continues to debilitate and kill in America’s coal-mining communities.

Experts say the disease is more widespread than it’s been in the last 25 years in Appalachian coal-mining states.

On Tuesday, coal miners, coal miners’ widows and their families gathered on Capitol Hill to ask lawmakers for help. They want Congress to act on a 10-year extension of the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which pays benefits to miners and their family members when the mine companies go bust.

Clarence Whisenhunt and David Mullins, Virginia coal miners of more than 30 years, say working in the mines ruined their health.

“It just crippled me,” Mullins said. “I can’t do nothing.”

“I feel like I ain’t even a man no more,” Whisenhunt said.

“We shouldn’t be automatically getting that disease and it overtaking our whole lifestyle,” Mullins added.

Both Mullins and Whisenhunt suffer from black lung disease. They and more than 100 others like them made a plea to Congress to save the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which is in financial jeopardy after a wave of bankruptcies in the coal industry.

“We need to be took care of – not pushed under the rug,” Whisenhunt added.

That’s what Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, says he wants to do.

“We’ve got to get the coal excise tax rate up so it can fund the trust fund,” he said.

Casey has legislation that would ensure miners have a chance to get access to their benefits faster.

“Make sure that these miners have an opportunity to make their case,” Casey added.

According to Casey, the legislation would streamline the benefits claiming process and improve the benefits package available to miners.

“They kept their promise to their companies, to their families, in some cases, served in wars like Vietnam, kept their promise to their country—it’s about time our government kept its promise to coal miners,” Casey said.

Experts say black lung cases are at a 25-year high in coal-mining communities across the nation and every year, 1,000 miners die from the disease.

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