Sen. Joe Manchin stopped in Oceana on Saturday afternoon to talk about miners health care and pensions.
He spoke at UMWA Local 7604 before about 80 people as part of a two-day town hall tour called “Keep the Promise to Our Miners.”
After a years-long battle over healthcare for retired miners—some received letters as recently as March saying they would lose their benefits in April—Manchin said a recent spending bill appoved has taken care of the issue.
“Every one of you will have healthcare for the rest of your life,” he said.
Getting funding approved was tough, he said, “because a lot of people don’t know about coal.”
He discussed past mine disasters around the state, in some of which he lost friends and family members.
“If you can’t mine coal safely, don’t mine,” Manchin stated.
The Senator also talked about the history of miners benefit coverage, which dates back to 1946.
Problems began, he said, when mining companies began filing for bankruptcy in the 1980s and oblitagations to miners healthcare and pension plans were made a low priority.
Bankruptcy laws should be changed, he said, and benefits owed to miners made a high priority.
The healthcare fix will cost about a $1.3 billion, Manchin reported.
He estimaed the pensions fix at $2.2 billion.
One funding source, he said, would be AML (Abandoned Mine Lands).
Manchin said he would introduce a bill dealing with pensions this week.
He expressed thanks to UMWA head Cecil Roberts and miners who who visited Washington to talk to Senators about their need for healthcare.
“You all came up by the busload,” he commented.
“I’m proud to be able to tell your story,” Manchin said.
He took questions after his speech. Most of those were from miners still working and curious about their status.
Later, Manchin discussed the region’s opioid crisis. He said he proposed charging pharmaceutical companies one penny per gram for opioids produced. He could not get other senators to support the idea, he said.
He also discussed the need for drug treatment centers in West Virginia.
Larry Mathis, a former teacher and county commissioner, asked how the companies were allowed to send “million and millions” of pills to the state.
“I got tired of attending the funerals of students I taught,” he commented.
Manchin also visited Matewan and Logan on Saturday and had town halls in the northern part of the state on Friday.
John Conley can be reacheda t 304-732-6060 or on Twitter @PIHnews.
Photo: Sen. Joe Manchin greets people who attended his town hall at UMWA 7604 in Oceana on Saturday.