Legislation to free up federal funds to help underfunded pension and health-care funds of the United Mine Workers of America could be considered by Congress as early as next week, Senate and House proponents said Wednesday.
The Senate and House bills would allow surplus funds from the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund, which currently go to the U.S. Treasury, to instead be diverted to the health-care and pension funds. As of June 30, 2015, the United Mine Workers of America 1974 Pension Plan, Washington, had $4.4 billion in assets and $6.2 billion in liabilities but the funding ratio is declining as retirees outnumber active workers four to one, and employer contributions are down two-thirds from last year following several coal company bankruptcies. The closed fund pays $600 million in benefits annually.
The pension fund could be insolvent and wind up at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. in three years, said Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., who warned that it would overwhelm the agency's multiemployer program. More than 21,000 retirees stand to lose their health-care benefits by early 2017, he said.
Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, Mr. McKinley was joined by West Virginia Sens. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, and Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican, who noted that payments into the pension and health funds were guaranteed by the federal government in 1946 and reaffirmed in later years. The House is waiting for the Senate to act first. “We can fix this,” said Mr. Manchin.
The Senate Finance Committee will consider the legislation Sept. 14, but there may not be enough time on the legislative calendar for final approval before the elections. “I am more optimistic that we can actually have a good result in November or December,” Ms. Capito said.