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Funding for coal miners with black lung disease slashed when Build Back Better failed

By Rebecca Thiele, IPB News | Published on in Business, Environment, Government, Health
Miners in an underground West Virginia coal mine, 2006. (Chuck Holton/Flickr)

A federal fund that pays benefits to Indiana coal miners with black lung disease and their survivors is in trouble. When Congress failed to pass the Build Back Better Act before the end of last year, it neglected to extend an excise tax on coal sold in the U.S. — which is the main source of revenue for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.

Vonda Robinson is vice president of the National Black Lung Association. She said money from the fund pays for the prescriptions her husband takes for black lung disease. But without it?

“We would be looking at $6,000 a month. There’s no way we could afford that,” Robinson said.

More than 60 groups signed a letter urging Congress to pass a bill to extend the tax rate for 10 years to give security to coal miners and their families.

Rebecca Shelton with the Appalachian Citizens Law Center said coal companies are usually responsible for paying these benefits — the trust fund is only supposed to serve as a back-up.

“It’s more important now than ever before as a wave of coal industry bankruptcies and transference of liability onto the trust fund becomes more and more common,” she said.

READ MORE: Indiana coal company files for bankruptcy, lays off employees

The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund paid out more than $2 million to Indiana coal miners and their families in 2021.

Black lung disease is on the rise in the U.S. Severe black lung in Appalachia is the highest it’s ever been — likely because miners have to drill farther into the rock to find coal, inhaling more dust.

Contact reporter Rebecca at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.