Ticking Clock

McKinley wants to rescue pension fund

Since 2013, U.S. Rep. David McKinley has been introducing bills aimed at rescuing the pension program covering 105,000 active and retired coal miners. McKinley, R-W.Va., is aware that no later than 2022, perhaps sooner, the retirement fund will become insolvent, leaving tens of thousands of retired miners and their families in deep, deep trouble.

Reluctance by many of McKinley’s peers in the House is understandable. The United Mine Workers of America Pension Plan is not the only private-sector retirement fund in financial difficulty. Using taxpayers’ money to bail out one would lead to calls that the same be done for others.

But the congressman is right to point out that while many other pension systems are beleaguered, none faces insolvency as soon as that covering the miners.

Last year, McKinley was successful in convincing fellow lawmakers to provide a mechanism to prevent insolvency of the health insurance program for retired miners. That preserved benefits for an estimated 22,000 retirees and their families.

So it is not as if lawmakers are blind to the dilemma in which so many miners find themselves.

But action is needed, and soon, to save the pension system.

Earlier this week, McKinley led an initiative under which 25 representatives signed a letter to the congressional Joint Select Committee on the Solvency of Multi-Employer Pension Plans. Every member of the House from West Virginia, along with Reps. Bill Johnson and Bob Gibbs, both R-Ohio, signed it.

The signatories reminded committee members that the miners’ pension plan is far from a lavish one. The average monthly retirement check paid out is just $582 a month.

Yet without that, it is difficult to understand how many retirees will be able to pay the bills.

McKinley and the other signatories also pointed out that unless Congress comes up with a solution, the cost to taxpayers later could be enormous. That is because if the miners’ fund goes broke, the taxpayer-funded Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. may have to step in.

It has been five years since McKinley began trying to convince other lawmakers of the need to rescue the miners’ pension fund. It is long past time to end the uncertainty.


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