Black Lung benefits falling behind as inflation, cost of living continues to increase

Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 3:53 PM EDT
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HAZARD, Ky. (WYMT) - In a recent report from the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center (ACLC), black lung benefit payments have fallen behind the cost of living as inflation continues to rise.

When the federal black lung program was created in 1969, single miners with no dependents received $144.50. Now, adjusting for inflation, payments should be more than $1,200 but miners actually only receive $738 under current law.

“After sacrificing their health and well-being to power our country, miners and their families struggling with a black lung diagnosis shouldn’t have to pinch pennies to survive,” said Rebecca Shelton, Director of Policy for Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center. “Anything less is a failure to support our communities during the ongoing cost of living crisis.”

In early 2023, inflation rates hit 8% while benefit levels raised by only 4%. Last Congress, several members from coal states such as Kentucky, Virginia, and Pennsylvania introduced the “Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act”.

“For generations, our brave coal miners have worked to power our nation to greatness and as a result, many now suffer from black lung disease,” said U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (WV). “These benefits are not just supplementing an early retirement — they are replacing an income for many years that may be needed to support children, aging or sick parents, and education costs, and it is critical that we ensure the benefits are sufficient.”

Last week, five senators requested the Government Accountability Office conduct a study on whether these benefits adequately provide for the needs of miners.

“If Congress is serious about acting to tackle inflation, they need to move quickly to protect our nation’s miners from its serious impacts,” said Chelsea Barnes, Director of Government Affairs and Strategy for Appalachian Voices. “Miners with black lung and their families deserve certainty and stability, and a simple fix to tie their benefits to the cost of living can provide that and give them the safety net they’ve earned.”