THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Vice President
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE ANNOUNCES FUNDING FOR HEALTH BENEFITS FOR RETIRED
West Virginia Delegation Praises Administration for Keeping Promise to
Washington, DC -- The Vice President announced today that the Administration will include $346 million over ten years to ensure that retired coal miners and their families maintain the health benefits they have been promised.
"I am pleased to announce that this Administration is keeping its commitment to the men and women who have done the dangerous work in our nation's coal mines," Vice President Al Gore said. "The strong leadership of Senators Byrd and Rockefeller has helped to guarantee that these retirees get the benefits they deserve."
The health care benefits are funded out of the UMWA Combined Benefit Fund, which was created by Congress as a part of the 1992 Coal Act and now faces insolvency. The money will ensure that health benefits to retired miners and their families are not cut by securing the long-term solvency of the Combined Benefit Fund.
Senator John D. Rockefeller, who authored the 1992 Coal Act, said, "More than a half century ago, coal miners were promised lifetime health benefits by the companies they worked for and by the federal government -- Vice President Gore has fought to ensure that this promise is kept. After we had conversations on this matter, the Vice President insisted on including a substantial amount of funds in the budget to guarantee the security of retired miners' health benefits for more than a decade. This budget provision demonstrates the Administration's rock solid commitment to protecting retired miners' health benefits. Congress must now do the same. I will not rest until miners' benefits are once again secure."
Rockefeller and Byrd have worked closely with the Administration for many years to determine the best way to achieve solvency for the Combined Benefit Fund. At their behest, Congress enacted a stop-gap measure last year when it included $68 million in the Consolidated Appropriations Act to stabilize the Fund through FY 2000. The proposal in this year's budget, which would not be funded through the appropriations process, is the first time that the Administration has proposed a long-term solution that will guarantee solvency at least through FY 2010.
"I welcome the Administration's interest in proposing a long-term solution to the funding problems of the combined benefits fund," Senator Robert Byrd said. "Those who depend on this fund are mostly elderly women and many are in poor health. I am glad that I could provide a short-term fix to get through this immediate crisis, but our retired miners and their dependents certainly deserve the security and peace of mind that will be provided by a more permanent fix."
"I am pleased that the Administration has recognized the commitment by including funding for the UMWA Combined Benefits Fund in the President's budget," said Representative Robert Wise. "For the thousands of coal mining families in West Virginia who have worked hard all their lives, it's important that this commitment be kept. I will continue to work with the Administration to make sure that these health benefits are preserved."
"This comes as very welcome news to the coal miner families who faced the devastating prospect of losing their health benefits," said Representative Alan B. Mollohan. "I appreciate that Vice President Gore took a personal interest in averting a crisis that would have impacted thousands of our citizens. His efforts to include this funding fix in the budget request upholds a very important promise that was made years ago to our West Virginia miners."
"Having the Administration's support for insuring that retired coal miners continue to receive health care coverage will be a very important element in our chance to successfully legislative this matter in the Congress," said Representative Nick J. Rahall. "Certainly, there should be no doubt that the men and women who produced the coal that fueled this nation to greatness deserve a stable and long term health care system."
"These workers were guaranteed benefits for life," the Vice President said. "It is important that we honor that commitment."