WASHINGTON, D.C. (WVNS) — The U.S. Senate completed a bi-partisan effort to help coal miners on December 19, 2019. The American Miners Act secures pensions and healthcare for nearly 100,000 miners, their widows and families.
The Act was included in the final funding package which will keep the government open beyond December 20. It secures lifetime healthcare for 13,000 miners who would have lost their benefits entirely and 92,000 miners who would have seen their pensions gutted in 2020 without Congressional action.
“Today we came to an agreement that will finally secure pensions and healthcare for our coal miners and their families,” said U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). “We have honored the promise this country made to them back in 1946. This would not have happened without the UMWA and the thousands of coal miners who invested their time and energy, year after year, coming to Washington, walking the halls, and fighting for their brothers and sisters. It has been the honor of my life to lead this fight and bring together the coalition that made this possible. I want to thank my colleagues in Congress, Democrats and Republicans, for making this a truly bipartisan effort.”
U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) tweeted about the passage of the bill.
U.S. Senator Shelley Moore-Capito (R-WV) also voted for the legislation. She had this to say:
“I’m encouraged that the Senate was able to work together in a bipartisan way to pass these important appropriations bills,” said Sen. Capito. “This is what we were sent to Congress to do. I am particularly proud of the facty that legislation I introduced to secure coal miners’ pensions was part of this package. I’ve been proud to fight alongside our coal miners-as well as Leader McConnell, Senator Manchin, Congressman McKinley, and the UMWA-every step of the way to make sure we enact a solution that keeps the promise to these hardworking men and women.”
The U.S. Senate voted for the appropriations package in a vote of 71 to 23. It now goes to the President’s desk for his signature. The President is expected to sign it.
Coal miner’s pensions were not the only concerns of West Virginians included in the bill. Here are some of the other items included:
- Opioids ($3.8B): Billions of dollars in dedicated funding across the government to combat opioids, including $518 million through the Dept. of Justice, $402 million through the VA, and $25 million at HUD.
- Clean Drinking Water ($2.8B): Supports nearly $2.8 billion in appropriations toward water infrastructure, as well as $43 million directed toward remediation of PFAS chemicals, which have impacted several cities in WV.
- Border Wall ($1.375B): Maintains funding for the construction of the wall along the southern border.
- Rural Broadband ($570M): Provides funding to the USDA for the ReConnect program, as well as $5 million in new broadband funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission for distressed counties in North and North Central Appalachia, making 10 more counties eligible for ARC broadband funding in addition to seven counties in southern WV previously eligible for funding for Central Appalachia.
- Youth Homelessness ($181.5M): Includes $80 million specifically to stop youth homelessness through HUD and $101.5 million through McKinney-Vento grants through DOE.
- NETL ($161M): Includes $61 million for Coal R&D, $50 million for Infrastructure, and $23 million for the Rare Earth Element (REE) program. It also prioritizes the construction of a supercomputer located in Morgantown.
- Assistance to Coal Communities ($83M): Provides funding for the ARC Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) and EDA Assistance to Coal Communities (ACC) programs. WV is the largest per capita recipient of EDA funds each year and has received $46.372 million in POWER Grants over the past four years.
- WV Bridges ($50M): Provides funding to repair bridges in West Virginia. 19 percent of West Virginia’s 1,247 bridges are considered structurally deficient, the second highest total in the U.S.
- Appalachian Storage Hub ($33M): Encourages DOE to study the economic & national security benefits of natural gas liquids storage & includes funding for the Title XVII Innovative Technologies Loan Program.
- Corridor H ($15M): For the first time since 2012, the bill includes dedicated funding for the Appalachian Development Highway System (ADHS), which includes Corridor H, also known as U.S. Route 48, which connects I-79 in Weston to I-81 in Strasburg, VA.
- Summit Point ($9M): Funds the expansion of the CBP Advanced Training Facility in Harpers Ferry.
- Agricultural & Forestry Research ($5.4M): Funding for USDA research and education activities in the state, including the Wood Education Resource Center in Princeton, and new funding to establish a Pollinator Recovery and Education Center in Central Appalachia.
- Camp Dawson ($3M): Reversed a House rescission cut to a Navy program that would have prevented these funds from setting up the WV National Guard’s new Cyber Testing & Training Environment.
- Secure Rural Schools ($1.7M): Provides funding over the next two years to 14 counties in WV with significant federal lands through a 2-year extension to the Secure Rural Schools program.
- Monongahela National Forest ($750k): Funding through the Land & Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for Forest Service Land Acquisition within the Monongahela National Forest. As Ranking Member on the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee, Senator Manchin led a successful effort earlier this year to permanently authorize LWCF.
- Amtrak Ticket Agents: Following the removal of the last ticket agent in West Virginia last year, this bill directs Amtrak to re-staff stations around the country, restoring the ticket agent in Charleston.
- Federal Workforce: Level or increased funding for federal agencies like NASA IV&V, Bureau of Fiscal Service, CBP Advanced Training Center, FBI CJIS, National Conservation Training Center, Coast Guard, NOAA, & others across the state, as well as a 3.1% pay raise for the more than 21,000 federal employees in West Virginia.