Save expiring benefits for retired coal miners and their families.
I worked underground in a Kentucky coal mine for 23 years to have health care for my family. Now, coal companies and Congress are breaking their promise to miners like me and we're losing the health insurance our families need.
My name is John Leach. My wife, Rhonda, and I live in Beaver Dam, Kentucky. We are the proud parents of 3 children, all of whom were diagnosed with Friedreich's Ataxia, a rare and always fatal genetic disease that attacks the nervous system. We did not learn of our children's diagnoses until after our youngest child, Elizabeth, was born. Our oldest child passed away several years ago. Our second child, Christopher, is very ill and Elizabeth is in a wheelchair.
I worked for Peabody Coal for 21 years as a miner. My primary motivation for taking a mining job was the good family health insurance negotiated by my union, the United Mine Workers (UMWA) and the promise of health insurance and a pension upon retirement.
But the health benefits for my family and over 22,000 retired coal miners and their families are scheduled for termination on April 28. In addition, our pension plan – which provides benefits to 90,000 people -- is facing bankruptcy within a decade, which would result in drastic cuts to the small but important pension payments that thousands of miners and I earned over decades of hard and dangerous work.
We are in this mess because Peabody and other coal companies have used loopholes in our bankruptcy laws to throw away benefit obligations to retirees, like old clothes taken out with the trash.
What they did was wrong. But the U.S. Congress has the opportunity to fix it. The Miners Protection Act is bipartisan legislation that permanently extends health benefits to the retirees at risk and shores up our pension plan.
Congress has failed to act in the past. I’m embarrassed to say that my Senator, Mitch McConnell, personally blocked this legislation from being included in previous spending bills. We need to make sure he doesn’t do the same thing again at the end of April.
The United States made a promise to the nation’s coal miners after World War II: if we produced the fuel that created America’s economic and military strength, then our nation would guarantee health and retirement benefits for our dependents and us. From that time to this, Presidents and Congresses led by both parties have upheld that promise. It is time to do so once again.
Because we earned it.
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