Benham & Jackson are first Kentucky cities to pass a local resolution supporting miners and communities | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Benham & Jackson are first Kentucky cities to pass a local resolution supporting miners and communities

The Benham City Council in Harlan County and Jackson City Council in Breathitt County are the first local governments in Kentucky to pass a local resolution calling on members of Congress to pass three bills needed to help sick, disabled, retired and unemployed coal workers and their families and communities. Benham’s city government took the unanimous action at its monthly meeting on September 13. Jackson's city government adopted the resolution one week later on September 20, 2018.

Advocates hope other local governments may soon follow their example. A similar resolution was adopted several weeks ago in Virginia by the City of Big Stone Gap.

Jackson City Council9.20.2018

“I’m personally so happy that our city is trying to move forward and protect our miners and our community,” said disabled miner and Benham resident Carl Shoupe. “And I hope this action lights a fire.”

"I want to say thank you to the City Council and Mayor of Jackson for their support for coal miners and their families," said Virginia Meagher of Breathitt County. "By signing and issuing this Resolution, they have indicated to our senators and representatives on the federal level that we care about the pensions and health care of miners and their families and that we want the federal government to enforce past guarantees and adapt those laws for the economic wellbeing of our struggling communities."

The resolution urges Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, along with the six U.S. representatives from Kentucky, to strengthen funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. That federal fund provides benefits to miners who worked for coal companies that have gone bankrupt.

A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) study found that the long-term financial health of fund is poor as more miners are getting sick with the disease and more coal companies are going bankrupt.

Making matters worse, the fee that provides revenue for the fund, which is paid by the coal industry, is scheduled to drop by 55 percent on January 1, 2019 unless Congress takes action to keep it at its current level.

The resolution also urges Kentucky’s representatives in Congress to support and help pass the RECLAIM Act (H.R. 1731), legislation sponsored by Rep. Hal Rogers, who represents Kentucky’s 5th District. That bipartisan bill would help revitalize coal communities in eastern and western Kentucky by directing $1 billion to be invested in the reclamation of abandoned mine lands and in long-term economic development initiatives over the next five years. 

Lastly, the resolution urges Congressional support for the bipartisan American Miners Pension Act (H.R. 3913/S. 1911), which ensures that the UMWA’s 1974 Pension Plan can continue to provide the pensions retired miners or their surviving spouses have earned. That federal fund also exists to provide pensions to miners who worked for companies that have since gone bankrupt, and it is at risk of becoming insolvent by 2022.

An effort to pass similar local resolutions across Kentucky is being spearheaded by affected miners, family members and residents, many of whom are KFTC members. Advocates point to a similar effort in 2015-2016, when 28 local governments and organizations in four central Appalachian states passed resolutions calling on Congress to pass the RECLAIM Act and Miners Protection Act. That display of public support helped encourage Rep. Rogers to sponsor the RECLAIM Act in the House, and Senator McConnell to introduce a version of the bill in the Senate. Eventually, McConnell also helped secure health benefits for retired miners, but left their pension issue unresolved.

Now is the time, KFTC members in Benham and Jackson say, for Kentucky’s leaders in Congress to finish the job by passing these three important Just Transition measures before the year ends.