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Final funding package includes bill to secure coal miners' pensions, healthcare

After threatening to block all bills until Congress secured the pensions and healthcare for coal miners and their dependents, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin announced that his bipartisan legislation to do so was included in the final funding package to keep the government open beyond Dec. 20.

Manchin, D-W.Va., said his Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019 was included in legislation to keep the government open beyond the expiry of current temporary funding. The legislation will protect the pensions and healthcare of nearly 100,000 coal miners, securing the lifetime healthcare benefits for the 13,000 miners who would have lost them entirely and 92,000 miners' pensions that would have been "gutted" in 2020 without action, he said in a Dec. 16 release.

The senator acknowledged the role played by the United Mine Workers of America, or UMWA, and all the coal miners who returned to Washington year after year to fight for their benefits.

"I look forward to voting for this crucial bill later this week and sending it to the President so he can sign it into law and provide some well-deserved peace of mind to these great Americans that have done everything this country has asked of them," Manchin said in the release.

The union backed the bill, which addresses the multiemployer pension plan crisis. The UMWA pension plan was at risk of being insolvent in the next few years, and the bill would transfer excess funds from the Abandoned Mine Land fund to the pension plan.

UMWA President Cecil Roberts said in a statement that the bill's inclusion marked a "tremendous victory for tens of thousands of retired miners, their families and their communities." He cautioned that the pension and healthcare fight is not over, noting that the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on the bill Dec. 17 and the Senate will follow suit later this week.

"We will continue our efforts to ensure that this language stays in the legislation throughout the process, because there are still those who oppose allowing retirees to live out their days with the measure of comfort and dignity that they have earned," Roberts said. "The end of our 10-year battle to preserve the pensions and health care our retirees earned in sweat and blood is in sight."