U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers visits Williamsburg to introduce legislation for disabled coal miners

U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers visited the city of Williamsburg on Tuesday to introduce legislation that expedites black lung benefits to disabled coal miners 60 days after being medically approved.

The John White Ensuring Timely Black Lung Benefits Act is named in honor of Whitley County native and coal miner John J.L. White.

White was diagnosed with black lung disease and lung cancer in November 2018. He applied for benefits as soon as he was diagnosed but passed away less than a year later before receiving any benefits that could help pay for medical expenses.

White’s family worked to get those benefits but kept running into issues along the way. So, in turn, they called U.S. Congressman Rogers and Caseworker Tonya Owens to find a solution.

“Today, I'm vowing to change the course for disabled coal miners with black lung disease by announcing legislation named in memory of Mr. White,” said U.S. Congressman Rogers.

The bill requires miners to receive benefits from the Black Lung Disability Fund 60 days after being medically approved, which expedites the process, even if the Department of Labor is still tracking down which employer was responsible.

Congressman Rogers stated if a responsible coal operator is not found within 60 days, the disabled miner will receive their benefits from the Trust Fund. Still, once a responsible coal operator is found, the Trust Fund will then be reimbursed by the coal operators rather than leaving disabled miners without the help they need when they need it the most.

Once a miner has been medically approved for Black Lung Benefits, Congressman Rogers said Medicare would not cover services that otherwise would be covered by the Black Lung Benefits such as inhalers. The John White Ensuring Timely Black Lung Benefits Act resolves this issue.

“I’m incredibly proud of the coal miners that I represent,” said Congressman Rogers. “They have powered this country for generations, working long hours underground, and we owe these people a debt of gratitude for their diligent work. They have kept our lights on, and our homes and businesses warm at a more affordable rate than other parts of the country.”

White’s daughter, Johnna White Robinson, spoke on behalf of her father, “In my eyes, my Dad was the hardest working person I have or will ever know. He always spoke very fondly and very highly of his time working in the coal mines. He was very passionate about using local resources and fossil fuels.” White continued, “In late August of 2021, my father finally received his black lung benefits, and I was able to pay his remaining medical bills and close his estate. While this waiting game was frustrating for my family and me, I thought about how it would be especially detrimental to families with living miners who had medical bills and needs they needed met. So I believe this bill is critically important for our miners. He would be very touched and honored to know about this bill, and as a family, we are very honored to have this named for him because this means that his legacy, his passion, and the things that were most important to him can live on as a reminder and remind us each day of how blessed we were to have him in our lives.”

Since 1973, more than 119,000 Kentucky coal miners have filed for black lung benefits, which Congressman Rogers said is the highest rate in the country.

Samantha Walden, Staff Writer at the Kentucky Daily

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