WASHINGTON, DC (WOWK) – A group of eight senators, including Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), are asking for a study to evaluate black lung benefits.

The senators say they are urging the Government Accountability Office Comptroller, General Gene Dodaro, to have the study conducted to make sure the current benefits available are meeting the healthcare and income needs of disabled miners and their families.

Manchin said the study would benefit coal miners across Appalachia by providing necessary information to continue improving policy on black lung benefits.

“Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, commonly known as black lung disease, is a fatal, incurable condition caused by long-term exposure to coal dust in and around coal mines,” the senators said. “The U.S. Department of Labor has estimated that black lung has killed more than 76,000 people since 1968. However, the number of miners with black lung is likely much higher, given the difficulty in and hesitancy about getting diagnosed within mining communities.” 

According to the senators, the Black Lung Benefits Act was first passed by Congress in 1972 in order to provide monthly benefits paid by either the coal mining company or the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund to disabled miners or to the eligible, surviving family members of coal miners who passed away from the disease.

The senators say however, the claim process for the benefits can be difficult, often taking many years to be approved. According to the senators, this is an issue because many of the miners or survivors rely on these benefits for their income and healthcare.

“Many recipients of black lung benefits are living month-to-month on limited and fixed incomes. 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,” the senators said. “Ensuring that benefits are sufficient to meet the economic and healthcare needs of mining families has always been critical.”

Manchin says this is why he introduced the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act last year as an effort to “ensure Congress is fulfilling its commitment to the nation’s coal miners.” He also says the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 included a “permanent extention” of the black lung excise tax, which will help fund the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.

Senators joining Manchin and Brown in urging Dodaro for the study include senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Bob Casey (D-PA), John Fetterman (D-PA) and John Hickenlooper (D-CO).