Retired coal miners and social justice advocates stood atop the stairs leading to the Laurel County Judicial Center Wednesday afternoon to protest for the rights of miners. By the end of the week, funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund will drop by 55 percent, putting benefits for miners and their families at risk.

"Black lung is killing us more than ever before, and we're trying to get Mitch McConnell to do something about it," said Jimmy Moore, a retired miner and President of the Southeast Kentucky Black Lung Association. "I got it after two years working in the mines," said Moore. "My son, he worked 20 years in the mines and now black lung is killing him."

"My Husband chose to go to the mines, but he didn't choose to get black lung," said Patty Amburgey, member of the Black Lung Association of South East Kentucky. Her husband died due to complications relating to Black Lung. She had written a letter asking McConnel to vote to maintain -- if not increase, the current excise tax on coal for another decade.

The Disability Excise Tax is a fee paid by coal companies for every ton of coal they mine. This tax funds the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which is intended to provide coal miners benefits if the company they work for goes bankrupt or becomes unable to pay benefits. It was planned by Congress in 1985 to decrease the tax by 55 percent at the end of 2018.

"At the time, people though black lung would be something of the past. That's why they planned to reduce the fee. Now we have more cases of black lung than ever," Joanne Hill, retired Corbin nurse and a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC), explained to the Sentinel-Echo in a previous story.

Members of KFTC, a state-wide nonprofit grassroots organization, joined Moore and Amburgey. The activists held signs calling out Senator Mitch McConnel and asked passers-by to urge Congress to protect the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.

Robert Goforth, Republican member of the Kentucky House of Representative, attended the protest and discussed his plans to support Kentucky miners.

"House Bill 2 limited access of health care to miners," explained Goforth. "The bill made is so that only pulmonologists could diagnose miners with black lung." He said there were only a few pulmonologists in Commonwealth, and that many other medical providers are capable of diagnosing black lung.

"Bill BR163 will repeal that restriction," added Goforth, "and I already have bi-partisan support from Democratic representative Angie Hatton. We hope to push the bill forth immediately when the legislature goes back in session on January 8."

Those looking to support the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund can call 512-402-8385 to be redirected to the office of Senator Mitch McConnel. Recordings of the protest can be found on the Kentuckians for the Commonwealth Facebook page.

dcombs@sentinel-echo.com

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