UMWA in Action
UMWA President Cecil Roberts editorial published in the April 25, 2005 Charleston Daily Mail, This Promise Must Be Kept
April 25, 2005
The AML Fund and Retired Miners' Health Care
By Cecil E. Roberts, President, United Mine Workers of America
The Daily Mail's editorial of April 18 ("Reclamation must be first") deriding the use of interest money from the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) program to help fund health care for retired miners and their widows can only be seen as one of two things: either a shocking ignorance of the facts with respect to the decades-old federal government responsibility for this program, or a deliberate attempt to mislead the Daily Mail's readers about the use of the AML Fund and the interest it earns.
Just so everyone understands what the issues are, let's review the facts about health care for retired miners and their widows:
However, many more coal companies have gone out of business since that time. That, coupled with the skyrocketing costs of health care over the last decade, has meant that the contributions from current coal companies required under the Coal Act are not adequate to provide the promised benefits to retired miners and their widows.
Now let's look at some facts about the AML Fund that the Daily Mail chose to ignore:
Congress has stepped up and delivered on America's promise to its coal miners. Were these "bail-outs," as the Daily Mail would have us believe? Not hardly. They were a fulfillment of a nearly 60-year-old promise by our government. The UMWA appreciates that we still have a government that keeps its promises.
And unlike the Daily Mail, we recognize that our government has made an effort to find a solution to the continuing problem of funding retired miners' health care. The Daily Mail offers no alternative to this critical program that has pumped billions of dollars into the economies of West Virginia and surrounding states. Should we just cut it off, and let the tens of thousands of retired miners and widows -- who have believed their government's promise for years -- fend for themselves?
The result of that will be an even greater burden on our society as these senior citizens, most with debilitating diseases and taking multiple prescription drugs, turn to even more costly forms of public assistance for their health care. Or, they will just simply die.
The Daily Mail terms the Coal Act a "bailout" and an example of "bait-and-switch financing." The only bait-and-switch that has occurred is that coal miners were promised lifetime retiree health benefits, only to find in their twilight years that promise was in jeopardy of being broken. Congress stepped in to enact the Coal Act to ensure that the promise was kept. Rather than carping about the Coal Act, the Daily Mail ought to be singing the praises of a law that helps thousands of West Virginia citizens and provides a critical underpinning for medical care for everyone in the coal fields, not just retired coal miners and their widows.
Indeed, rather than pandering for union votes, as the Daily Mail suggests, Reps. Cubin, Rahall, and all the other Representatives and Senators who support the current legislation are once again doing the right thing and responding to the urgent needs of their constituents. That's called democracy, and it's good to see it in action.
United Mine Workers