A Personal Story from a Coal Miner’s Family

As Congress wraps up its work for the year, I’ve joined my colleagues from Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania in pushing the Senate to act on a long-term solution to protect the hard-earned pension and healthcare benefits of 120,000 retired miners. Through no fault of their own, these miners — and widows — stand to lose out on what they earned following a lifetime in the mines if Congress fails to act.

Many of these miners and their families have called me and written letters to my office, expressing their fears that they soon may not be able to afford lifesaving medicines — or that they have no idea how they are going to support their families without the pensions they were counting on to support them in retirement. Below is just one such letter. I hope the Republican leadership will read it, and realize what’s at stake if we leave town without a long-term fix for families like Sharon’s.

From Sharon (last name omitted), a resident of Fancy Gap, Virginia:

I have voted in every election since I first turned 18, but contacting legislators is not something I do.
However, this issue is something I feel very strongly about.
My father is a retired coal miner. For many years he worked for Clinchfield Coal Company Moss #2. He gave them his time, sweat, hard work, and even his health, and in return he expected nothing more than a paycheck and a little pension and health care when he retired. He was promised that. He deserves that.
I remember as a child my dad coming home, black with coal dust, working the same kind of job as his father before him. I don’t remember my grandfather working. By the time I came along, he was already disabled from the years of crawling around on his hands and knees to mine coal to keep our country running.
My father was blessed that the conditions were better by the time he became a coal miner, however the dangers still existed. The day I was born in 1967, my father was already at the hospital. He was a patient there with a broken back he sustained from an injury at the mines. He has battled back issues every day of his life since. Today his arthritis gives him constant pain.
My dad was a product of the depression. He grew up in the small, poor town of St. Paul, Virginia. He grew up in a time when you took care of your things and believed that you paid for what you got. He’s paid for his pension and his health care dearly. Please don’t let that get taken from him.
He’s also a man who takes care of his money. He planned for years for his retirement. He saved and budgeted so that he would have enough with his pension to be able to support himself through the rest of his years and not be a burden on anyone. Now all his careful planning is also at risk of being destroyed and with that, his pride.
I urge you to support the coal miners and vote to pass SB 1714. These men and women have worked hard to support the backbone and infrastructure of our country for many years and we need to take care of them.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sharon is right. These miners went to work every single day, and did their jobs to the benefit of this country. Now it is time for Congress to do ours. Our bill has broad bipartisan support, and would pass if it brought to the floor of the U.S. Senate. What’s stopping us? For Sharon’s father and thousands of others, passing the Miners Protection Act is not only the easy thing to do — it is the right thing to do.

Mark Warner is a U.S. Senator and former Governor of Virginia.

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