In mid-December, Congress passed and President Trump signed the Bipartisan American Miners Act, a bill intended to rescue the multiemployer pensions of retired coal miners. Coal miners’ pensions are in dire straits as coal mining companies have consistently been closing their doors and filing for bankruptcy, with the final major employer still in business, Murray Energy, filing for bankruptcy in late 2019. Without this legislation, tens of thousands of miners would have lost their pension benefits, which would hit especially hard in economically disadvantaged areas of the nation that many coal miners call home.
The bill uses the Abandoned Mine Lands Reclamation Fund, which was originally created to address the environmental problems created by abandoned coal mine sites, as a vehicle to fund coal miner pensions. The Fund is partially funded by a tax on coal production, but the bill also allows the Treasury to send up to $750 million a year in taxpayer money into the Fund to further support these underfunded and unfunded pension obligations. This is the first time in 45 years of federal pension law that taxpayer dollars will be used to bail out workers in the private sector.
As the multiemployer pensions of 10 million workers nationwide continue to struggle, this action hints that Congress may be willing to use creative measures to rescue deficient pensions.