War on miners

April 13, 2014

The federal government in the form of the Department of Health and Human Services has decided to cut funding for coal miners suffering from black lung disease by 35 percent.

The seven black lung clinics in the state — Princeton, Whitesville, Oceana, Montcalm, Rainelle, Meadow Bridge and Scarbro — last year received $1.4 million in funding. This year, a cap has been put in place to reduce that funding to $900,000 a year.

Rightly so, West Virginia miners and lawmakers, and we, are outraged by what seems to be yet another attack on the residents of our state.

We’re used to fighting the Environmental Protection Agency’s war on coal, but now it seems another federal agency has declared war on suffering miners, too.

Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, and fellow Democrat Rep. Nick Rahall of Beckley, are trying to get the decision reversed.

“We need to do more to help miners who are suffering from this disease, not less,” Rockefeller said. “West Virginia has among the highest rates of black lung disease in the nation, and miners throughout Appalachia deserve our absolute best efforts at providing the health care treatment they so badly need.”

“Every single miner who suffers from black lung disease should receive the best medical care possible,” Manchin said. “It is essential that we find a long-term solution to this issue so that our eight black lung clinics around our great state will get the funding they need to treat their patients.”

“I have been among coal miners all my life and seen the terrible effects of black lung up close. I have seen far too many black lung victims, who should be active and strong, struggle just to climb up the staircase in their homes,” Rahall said Friday. “I hear repeatedly from the spouses and family members of black lung victims pleading for funding for clinics, and I have fought tooth and nail for that funding — a very tough fight in this Congress with the Republican leadership advocating cuts in any and all spending with little regard for the impact on our state’s black lung clinics and medical care to stricken miners.”

Rahall tells us it’s not going to be easy.

He says it is a difference in philosophy about the size of government and what it funds that is at work here. Apparently, the Obama administration, after six years, has suddenly decided that fiscal responsibility can be found in reducing the benefits of Americans with black lung disease.

This would, of course, be the same administration that came into the White House with a national deficit of $10.6 trillion, and has increased that to $16.7 trillion.

We’re all for fiscal responsibility. So it was with some degree of irony that we noticed last week that another federal agency, the U.S. State Department, somehow “lost” $6 billion. That’s right, they can’t find it and don’t know where they spent it. How much of that money could have helped miners with black lung disease?

Fiscal responsibility?

Martin Kramer, director of communications for the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency within the DHHS, said it is not accurate to characterize the cap on grant applications as a funding cut.

“It is critical to understand that the maximum funding award only applies to individual applicants — not the total amount of funding a single state could receive,” Kramer told The Register-Herald in an e-mail. “For example, multiple entities in West Virginia — including the state government and community-based organizations — can submit applications as long as there are different lead applicants serving different patients.”

Rockefeller, Manchin and Rahall said the scenario may cause West Virginia to lose even more funding.

We don’t have to tell anybody around here how tough, even brutal, it can be working in a coal mine. We see once-strong men reduced to struggling to climb those stairs, too. We also look on with anguish at the pain and suffering of miners who are our fathers and our brothers and our friends.

These miners worked hard, and they played by the rules. And underground, those were tough rules because tough rules kept you alive.

It outrages us that now the victims of black lung disease are going to suffer even more.

Because the government makes the rules, then unmakes the rules.

Our miners deserve better treatment. They earned it.

— The Register-Herald, Beckley