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WV House members introduce bill protecting Patriot employee benefits

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All three members of the House of Representatives from West Virginia along with 14 other House members introduced legislation late Thursday, Aug. 1, to protect health care benefits and pensions that are endangered by the Patriot Coal bankruptcy.

 "Over the past two and a half years, my staff and I have been working with United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) officials, miners, and retirees in an effort to protect healthcare and pension benefits for our miners," said Rep. David B. McKinley.  "After hearing the stories of what these men and their families face if they lose their benefits, it was clear that we had to find a solution.

"We're pleased to have the support of the UMWA," said Rep. McKinley.  "This plan ensures that the promises made to these miners are kept, and is a solution that will stand up to legal challenges."

The bill would amend the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to transfer certain funds to the Multiemployer Health Benefit Plan and the 1974 United Mine Workers of America Pension Plan.

Said Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, "I am proud to join my West Virginia colleagues in introducing this legislation. We have worked diligently together to craft legislation that addresses the most pressing issues retirees are facing as a result of Patriot Coal Company's bankruptcy. These hardworking coal miners have dedicated their lives to providing electricity to the Mountain State and building its economy, and we cannot let them down.  I will continue to fight for our coal miners and the retirees whose benefits are at risk."

Rep. Nick Rahall said, "The goals of this legislation, to ensure that our coalminers can access the benefits they were promised, are similar to those of the CARE Act which I introduced earlier this year and I am happy to lend my support to this bill as well. This effort is about standing up for coal miners, their widows, and our coalfield communities.  After a lifetime of labor, they have earned the right to retire and live in dignity and I refuse to stand idly by as our miners see the benefits they earned over a lifetime eroded by forces beyond their control.  It's not fair.  It's not right.  And our miners deserve better."

The bill was filed around 5 p.m. Before the three members of Congress could issue a news release on the filing, the UMWA issued a statement supporting the bill.

"The legislation introduced today by Reps. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) and Shelley  Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) will provide significant help to retired miners and widows whose health care is threatened. The Coal Healthcare and Pensions Protection Act of 2013 will also provide security for the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan, which serves nearly 100,000 pensioners," UMWA President Cecil E. Roberts said in the statement.

"I want to thank Reps. McKinley and Capito for introducing this bill, and for their support of the retired miners, their spouses or widows, who through no fault of their own, currently face a loss of the health care they were promised and earned through lifetimes of service in America's mines.

"It is especially important to note that there are members from both parties who are co-sponsors of this legislation: Reps. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), Ed Whitfield, (R-Ky.), George Miller (D-Cal.), Andy Barr (R-Ky.), Larry Buschon (R-Ind.), Bill Enyart (D-Ill.), Jim Moran (D-Va.) Steve Stivers (R-Ok.), Marcia Fudge (D-Oh.), Bill Johnson (R-Oh.) and Allison Schwartz (D-Pa.).

"Their support and willingness to work across the aisle to take critically-needed action on behalf of these coal miners is very much appreciated. Clearly, keeping the promise of health care and pensions to retired miners isn't a partisan issue, nor should it be.

"I also want to thank Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Sherrod Brown (D-Oh.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for their work to address this problem.

"We look forward to working with all of them, their colleagues and the leadership of both houses of Congress to get legislation passed that will keep America's promise to its miners."