Long term health of federal Black Lung Trust Fund in question - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

Long term health of federal Black Lung Trust Fund in question

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A cut in excise taxes for coal production has thrown the long term health of the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund into question. 

The trust fund pays the medical expenses of enrollees, as well as providing them with a small cash stipend for living expenses. Enrollees of the fund must first go through a lengthy application process.

When asked about how he would live without the trust fund, retired coal miner Arvin Hanshaw told WVVA, "it would be pretty rough, right now it would be pretty rough because I'm not able to work... If it weren't for the trust fund, I'd be in bad shape".

The trust fund is currently paid for with an excise tax. Energy companies must pay $1.10 for every ton of coal produced. However, this excise tax is scheduled to be slashed to $0.50 by the end of 2019, a 55% decrease. The trust fund currently carries nearly 4 billion dollars in debt, a figure that's projected to increase to 15 billion dollars by 2050 with the projected shortfall according to a government report.

This decrease in revenue for the fund comes at a time when rates for black lung disease among retired coal miners is increasing. 

Sam Petsonk, an attorney for Mountain State Justice out of Beckley, told us that this isn't necessarily an issue for current beneficiaries, but for future generations of retired coal miners. Citing that the rate of diagnosed black lung among retired coal miners has doubled over the last decade, he noted there would be no shortage of benefits to be paid in the coming years. 

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