COMMENTARY

Securing hard-won retirement benefits for coal families

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For generations, our nation’s strength has been powered by the miners in Kentucky’s coal fields. Their hard work helps fuel American innovation and provides millions of families and small businesses with reliable and affordable energy.


Unfortunately, the enduring pain from President Obama’s War on Coal has contributed to recent coal plant and mine closures in Kentucky. As a result, workers’ paychecks and retirees’ pensions were thrust into uncertainty. Thousands of Kentuckians—many who worked their entire careers in coal mines—saw their retirement security slipping away. Hearing from families in both the Eastern and Western coal fields, I joined my colleagues to introduce the “Bipartisan American Miners Act” to protect coal miners’ retirement benefits now and into the future.


The legislation, which I ensured was signed into law in December, secures the pensions of more than 90,000 retired coal miners and their dependents, many in Kentucky. Our effort built upon a 2017 bill I shepherded to enactment to permanently extend the health-care benefits for thousands of miner retirees, including 3,000 Kentuckians.


These men and women needed our help, and I was determined to provide it.


As the only congressional leader not from New York or California, I’m in a better position than ever before to deliver for Kentucky. With the partnership of our pro-coal president, I’m answering your calls and proudly supporting coal families.


I met with President Trump the week our bill was introduced to tell him personally why it needed to be signed into law. We discussed the hardship of coal workers dealing with lingering effects of the previous administration’s regressive anti-coal policies. I also hosted a group of Kentucky miners in my U.S. Capitol office to hear their concerns.


Then, I used my position as Senate Majority Leader to prioritize this legislation in the year-end government funding discussions, ensuring it was included in the final agreement. When President Trump signed it, we permanently preserved the retirement benefits for thousands of Kentucky miners and their families.


After our bill became law, I was proud to meet with United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) President Cecil Roberts in my office. He said the same thing Kentuckians told me: Securing retirement benefits was critical for the future of many coal families.


Together, President Trump and I have ended Obama’s regulatory War on Coal. Now we’re doing all we can to repair the damage.


My good friend and colleague, Congressman Hal Rogers, and I established the Abandoned Mine Land Pilot Program (AML) in 2015 to promote economic and community development in Appalachia. In five years, we’ve invested more than $100 million in Kentucky through this program alone. Communities are using these resources to build a new children’s hospital, upgrade local utilities and attract new tourism. These are a just a few of the AML-funded projects building a strong Eastern Kentucky.


Through organizations like the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP), we’re supporting the future of Kentucky and its proud workers. Last year alone, I supported DRA’s work serving 21 West Kentucky counties, delivered record funding for ARC and helped secure millions of dollars in federal grants for EKCEP’s employment and training services.


I publically joined the cause of laid-off miners in Harlan County and said they deserved their full paychecks. I also called on the U.S. Department of Labor to approve urgent federal grant resources for EKCEP’s work helping the miners get back on their feet.


Tragically, the economic downturn in many coal communities has coincided with a heartbreaking spike in substance abuse. As Senate Majority Leader, I mobilized the federal government and have helped direct more than $240 million for Kentucky’s fight. Last year, I partnered with the University of Kentucky to secure the largest federal grant in the school’s history with an ambitious goal to cut opioid overdose fatalities by 40% in 16 counties over three years. As opioids, meth and other drugs continue to plague Kentucky, these federal resources are more important than ever to save lives.


Kentucky’s treasured coal communities are a central part of our Commonwealth’s heritage. I am proud to stand with Kentucky’s coal families and will continue to support them.


Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, is the Senate Majority Leader

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