Appalachian Voices: Advocates Applaud Introduction of Rep. Scott & Adams' 10-Year Extension of Excise Tax for Black Lung Disability Trust Fund
Targeted News Service (Press Releases)
BOONE, North Carolina, Jan. 21 (TNSPol)(TNScapV) -- Appalachian Voices issued the following news release on Jan. 20, 2022:
Rep. Bobby Scott (VA-03) and Rep. Alma Adams (NC-12) introduced the Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Solvency Act of 2022 to extend the Coal Excise Tax for 10 years, with original cosponsors Rep. John Yarmuth (KY-3) and Rep. Matt Cartwright (PA-12). This is a welcome development for miners with black lung disease and their families who rely on the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund for a small monthly living stipend and health insurance. On Jan. 1, 2022, the excise tax rate was cut by more than half after Congress failed to pass a four-year extension in the Build Back Better Act, and the trust fund is now losing approximately $2.8 million every week.
"I'm from Eastern Kentucky and I watched my husband worry about whether he would get his black lung benefits and then whether he would get to keep them. As the Secretary of the Black Lung Association of Southeastern Kentucky I watch every one of the miners in our group worry about whether they can rely on this stipend for the next year to help feed their family or not and if times will get hard for them," said Patty Amburgey, Secretary, Black Lung Association of Southeastern Kentucky. "As a miner's widow we would appreciate a ten-year extension and not let this be a worry to our miners and their families. A miner with black lung already has a hard time breathing and this would take away one worry for them."
The excise tax is the only source of revenue for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund (BLDTF), a fund that is already over $4 billion in debt. The BLDTF pays for medical benefits and provides a small monthly living stipend to coal miners who are disabled by black lung disease and their surviving dependents in cases where the miners' employer has gone bankrupt or not been found responsible.
Funding for the BLDTF has been clouded by uncertainty for years. In 2018, the excise tax was reduced and collected at 50% of its historic rate for the entirety of 2019, pushing the BLDTF deeper into debt. In 2019 and 2020, the higher, historic rate of the excise tax was reinstated through one-year tax extender bills, but the rate was cut in half again at the end of last year because Congress failed to act. This new bill reinstates the Coal Excise tax at its prior, precedented rate and extends the tax for 10 years. A 10-year extension provides longer-term security for the fund and the miners who depend on it compared to short-term, one year extensions.
"We are grateful that Representative Scott and Representative Adams are listening and introducing this important bill that will provide long-term certainty for miners and their families," said Rebecca Shelton, Director of Policy and Organizing for Appalachian Citizens' Law Center. "and as Congress continues to rethink the Build Back Better Act back, they should include this ten-year extension."
"It's good to see movement in Congress on finally securing long-term funding for the trust fund," said Chelsea Barnes, Legislative Director for Appalachian Voices. "The year-to-year instability of this fund has created undue and unnecessary stress for coal miners and their families, while letting coal companies off the hook for these costs that have been unfairly foisted onto taxpayers."
Last week, the National Black Lung Association and 67 other organizations sent a letter to congressional leadership urging immediate action to pass a 10-year extension of the Coal Excise Tax. Last year, Sen. Joe Manchin (WV) introduced the Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Act of 2021 to extend the Coal Excise Tax for 10 years, but that did not advance before the January 1 deadline. A four-year extension of the Coal Excise Tax is included in the latest version of the Build Back Better Act, but that legislation also has not yet been passed into law.
The 10 year extension is the first step towards addressing the insolvency of the fund, as outlined in a May 2018 Government Accountability Office report (https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-18-351), and comes at a crucial time as coal companies continue to pass on their black lung liability to the trust fund when they go through bankruptcy, as discussed in a second GAO report from February of 2020 (https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-20-21). The May 2018 report indicated that the fund would not have sufficient revenue to cover beneficiary payments and administrative costs beginning in fiscal year 2020. In addition, the February 2020 report found $865 million in black lung liability was pushed from bankrupt "self-insured" coal companies to the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund just between 2014 and 2016, increasing costs while revenues were threatened.
Coal miners who are disabled from black lung, as well their surviving dependents, are entitled by law to modest living and medical benefits. The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund pays for these benefits in cases where the miners' employer has gone bankrupt or where no coal company can be identified as responsible for the miner's disease.
The trust fund is more important now than ever because a wave of bankruptcies in the coal industry has created increased pressure on the program. It is supported by a small excise tax paid by companies per ton of coal sold domestically, at a rate that was unchanged for more than three decades: $0.55/ ton of surface mined coal, and $1.10/ ton of coal mined underground.
In 2018, the excise tax was reduced and collected at less than 50% of its historic rate for the entirety of 2019, pushing the BLDTF deeper into debt. In 2019 and 2020, the higher, historic rate of the excise tax was reinstated through one-year tax extender bills, but the rate was cut in half again at the end of last year because Congress failed to act. The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund Act would extend the Coal Excise Tax on coal sales at the current tax rates for 10 years. Meanwhile, the Build Back Better Bill that recently passed through the House of Representatives includes a 4-year extension to the tax. A 10-year extension provides longer-term security for the fund, and for the miners who depend on it compared to short-term, one-year extensions.
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To: The Honorable Robert C. Scott, Chairman, House Education & Labor Committee, Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable Patty Murray, Chair, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions, Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable Richard Neal, Chairman, House Ways & Means Committee, Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable Ron Wyden, Chairman, Senate Finance Committee, Washington, DC 20510
January 13, 2022
Dear Chairpersons Scott, Neal, Murray, and Wyden:
On December 31st, 2021, the single source of revenue for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund (BLDTF) was cut by more than half. Thousands of coal miners and their families rely on the BLDTF to pay their benefits - health insurance and a small living stipend. The living stipend for a miner is less than $700 a month, but the health insurance can make all the difference for the survival of families dealing with this awful disease. The stipend, though small, is often one of the primary sources of income for widows and family members left behind when miners succumb to the disease.
The only source of revenue for the BLDTF is a small excise tax on domestically sold coal. If the tax is cut or goes away, taxpayers end up picking up the bill, the Trust Fund goes further into debt, and the benefits that miners have earned are put under a cloud of uncertainty. That's why the Black Lung Association has been fighting for a long-term extension of the excise tax. Legislation introduced by Representative Scott and Senators Manchin, Warner, Casey, Kaine, and Brown would extend the excise tax at its historic rate for ten years, but this legislation needs your support to pass. For the past two years, the historic excise tax rate ($1.10 per ton for underground coal and $0.55 for surface-mined coal) has been maintained by one-year extender bills, but our mining families need to know this program will be funded for the long term.
Last year, your Committees worked diligently to include a four-year extension of the excise tax in the Build Back Better Act (BBBA) alongside other impactful policies for miners including incentives for manufacturers to locate and create jobs within coal communities, and policies to ensure that workers have the right to form a union. However, without a 2021 tax extender bill or the passage of BBBA, the tax rate was cut by more than half at the end of 2021, putting the BLDTF further into debt and putting miners' benefits at risk. Based on 2021 revenue collection, we can estimate that the fund is losing, on average, approximately $2.8 million each week that the tax rate is not extended. That amounts to new tax benefits for coal companies and new expenses that fall on taxpayers.
Given the urgency to restore the excise tax to its prior rate and the uncertainty concerning the passage of the BBBA, as leaders of your committees, the Black Lung Association members, the United Mine Workers of America and 67 supporting organizations signed on below urge you to act expediently in 2022 to support and pass the Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Act of 2021 (S. 2810). Miners and families impacted by black lung need the stability of a longer term extension of the excise tax so they can address other urgent issues - including a study on the adequacy of the benefits, the need for workplace protections to prevent the disease, and legislation that addresses the BLDTF's solvency crisis over the long-term.
Gary Hairston, President, National Black Lung Association; President of the Fayette County WV Black Lung Association
Vonda Robinson, Vice President, National Black Lung Association
Dianna Perdue, Secretary, National Black Lung Association; Treasurer, Kanawha County WV Black Lung Association
Arvin Hanshaw, President, Nicholas County Black Lung Association
Dean Vance, President, Southwest Virginia Black Lung Association, Chapter 1
Bethel Brock, President, Southwest Virginia Black Lung Association, Chapter 2
Mark Lane, President, Wyoming County WV Black Lung Association
Brenda Ellis, Vice President, Wyoming County WV Black Lung Association
Judith Riffe, Secretary Treasurer, Wyoming County Black Lung Association
Fred Pinson, Vice President, East Kentucky Coalfield Black Lung Association
Linda Adams, Secretary, East Kentucky Coalfield Black Lung Association
William Jay McCool, Vice President, Black Lung Association of Southeastern Kentucky
Patty Amburgey, Secretary, Black Lung Association of Southeastern Kentucky
Mike Hairston, President, McDowell County Black Lung Association
Howard Mitchelson, President, Mercer County Black Lung Association
Kanawha County Black Lung Association
United Mine Workers of America
Supporting and Partner Organizations:
American Friends Service Committee - West Virginia
Americans for Tax Fairness
Appalachian Citizens' Law Center
Appalachian Community Services
Appalachian Land Study Collective
Bronx Jews for Climate Action
Center for Coalfield Justice
Center for Rural Strategies
Central Illinois Healthy Community Alliance
Charleston, WV Branch NAACP
Chesapeake Climate Action Network
Christians For The Mountains
Citizens Coal Council
Clearfork Community Institute
Climate Action Alliance of the Valley
Coal River Mountain Watch
Earth Action, Inc.
Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR)