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Senators introduce bill to help United Mine Workers pension fund

Six Democratic senators introduced a bill that aims to shore up the beleaguered United Mine Workers of America 1974 Pension Plan, Washington, and ensure that no miners lose their health care due to 2018 coal company bankruptcies.

The $3.14 billion UMWA plan has $3 billion in unfunded liability, according to an analysis by actuarial firm Cheiron released in the fall.

The American Miners Act of 2019 amends the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 to transfer funds in excess of the amounts needed to meet existing obligations under the Abandoned Mine Land fund to the UMWA pension plan to prevent its insolvency, which could happen by 2022, according to a news release from the senators, citing UMWA plan actuaries. It also raises the cap on the amount that can be transferred to $750 million from $490 million. The legislation, introduced Jan. 4, would protect the pension benefits of 87,000 current beneficiaries and 20,000 more who are vested but have not yet begun receiving pension benefits, according to the news release.

The legislation would be paid for through two provisions: First, it would extend for 10 years the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund tax at $1.10 per ton of underground-mined coal and 55 cents per ton of surface-mined coal (up to 4.4% of the sales price). The disability fund, which is currently more than $4 billion in debt, is supported by an excise tax that automatically expired at the end of 2018.

Second, it would permit in-service distributions under a pension plan or 457(b) plan at age 59½, thus making the rules for those plans consistent with the rules for 401(k) plans and 403(b) plans.

The bill is sponsored by Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, both D-Va.; Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Doug Jones, D-Ala.; and Bob Casey, D-Pa.