A group of retired Kentucky coal miners suffering from incurable black lung disease slammed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for brushing them off on Tuesday after they asked the Republican to commit to funding their medical care.
Around 120 miners and their families traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to meet with the Kentucky Republican and pressure him to take action to finance the federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which serves as a lifeline for an estimated 12,000 former coal miners nationwide.
The miners said McConnell was "rude" during their meeting and quickly left after delivering a brief statement.
"We rode up here for 10 hours by bus to get some answers from him because he represents our state," George Massey, a miner from Harlan County, Kentucky, told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "For him to come in for just two minutes was a low-down shame."
Republicans could help fund medical care for coal miners with black lung tomorrow. But McConnell is blocking it, because Republicans don't give a shit about coal miners except as political props. https://t.co/cHOHuC4TvN
— David Roberts (@drvox) July 24, 2019
According to Reuters, coal companies had previously "been required to pay a $1.10 per ton tax on underground coal to finance the federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which supports disabled miners whose employers go bankrupt and can no longer pay out medical benefits. But the amount reverted to the 1977 level of 55 cents [in January] after Congress declined to take action to maintain the rate."
"The coal industry had lobbied hard to allow the tax to drop as scheduled," Reuters reported, "despite a government report saying the fund was in dire financial straits."
Kenny Fleming, a former Pike County miner, said McConnell told the group of miners they "would be taken care of" but didn't offer any concrete assurances.
Miners and advocates are worried that the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund could soon become insolvent due to congressional inaction.
Jimmy Moore, the head of the Letcher County Black Lung Association, predicted McConnell would not do anything to protect the former miners.
"He might've stayed a minute," Moore said of McConnell's rapid departure from the meeting on Tuesday. "It was a worthless trip, that's the way I feel."