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How Strategic Oil Reserves May Cover Coal Miner Health Benefits

Coal Miners

A new bill proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives would sell off the country’s strategic oil reserves to pay for health care benefits for retired coal miners, according to a new report by The Daily Caller.

The bill would bring $375.4 million worth of oil from the Department of Energy’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve to international markets, creating budgetary room to pay for a $45 million fund to take care of the medical needs of 12,500 retired coal miners. The healthcare program had been set to expire at the end of this year.

“This legislation is just a band aid, but a critical one,” House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, said in a statement. “It will give the next Congress the time to complete the annual Appropriations process, and in the meantime, take care of immediate national funding needs.”

Lawmakers from the country’s coal counties are asking for a legislative solution that will keep the fund from running dry in the future.

“I’m disappointed that the full Miners Protection Act to address health and pensions benefits for our miners was not included in the continuing resolution that was released tonight,” Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said. “While the short-term, four-month patch will prevent our miners from losing their health care benefits in just a few weeks, we have more work to do.”

Related: The End Of The Bust? U.S. Shale Patch Could Start Hiring Soon

Retired coal miners could see improved coverage if the efforts of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin are fruitful. The Democratic lawmaker is pushing legislation that will guarantee health and pension plans for over 120,000 coal retirees, which would work towards building the center-left party’s salience in areas that voted resoundingly for Republican Donald Trump in last month’s presidential elections.

The United Mine Workers’ fund currently pays for pensions and medical care for almost 100,000 retired miners, wives and other dependents, according to the organization’s official website. The fund’s budget shortfalls have been spurred by a string of coal sector bankruptcies, which has led to a situation where just one working miner’s work is tasked with supporting 13 retirees.

By Zainab Calcuttawala for Oilprice.com

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