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Rural Blog: McConnell says he favors long-term fix for miners’ health benefits, but mum on pensions

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrote in an op-ed for Kentucky newspapers saying that he favors a long-term fix for coal miners’ health benefits, which Congress recently extended through April 2017 to 12,500 retired miners and their families.

McConnell did not mention miners’ pensions, which are also at risk due to the coal industry’s decline.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

McConnell took credit for the fix and wrote: “While it was my preference to include a long-term solution, it was more important to protect the benefits for thousands of my constituents, than to risk any lapse in benefits by fighting for a broader provision. With this legislation, miner-health benefits extend to the end of April, and I’m going to work with my colleagues to ensure they continue after that.”

Democrats and the United Mine Workers of America, which opposed McConnell’s 2014 re-election, have called the move a temporary fix that doesn’t solve the long-term issue, Dylan Brown reports for Environment & Energy News. In his column, McConnell said he had met with unnamed UMWA members.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) had threatened to hold up action on the resolution unless McConnell granted a floor vote to his bill to permanently guarantee pensions and retiree benefits for more than 100,000 coal workers and dependents, to be funded by fees coal companies pay to the Abandoned Mine Land Fund.

In his column McConnell mentioned a bill by House Appropriations Committee Chair Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) that would accelerate spending from the fund in areas that have been most hurt by the loss of coal jobs, but didn’t officially endorse it.

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The Rural Blog is a digest of events, trends, issues, ideas and journalism from and about rural America, from the IRJCI, based at the University of Kentucky. The Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues is an extension program for rural journalists and news outlets. It takes no positions on issues and advocates only for strong news coverage, responsible commentary and things that make them possible, such as open-government laws. For more information see www.RuralJournalism.org.

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