Warner leads colleagues in push to assess adequacy of black lung benefits
On March 6, 2023, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), joined by Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), John Hickenlooper (D-CO), and John Fetterman (D-PA), urged the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to evaluate the adequacy of black lung benefits to meet the income and health care needs of disabled miners and their families. In a letter to Comptroller General of the United States Gene L. Dodaro, the Senators explained that the study is critical to informing policy aimed at helping coal miners and their families in the Appalachian region.
“Many recipients of black lung benefits are living month-to-month on limited and fixed incomes,” the Senators wrote. “Though this has historically been true, many miners sick with black lung disease who are applying for benefits today are contracting the disease at a much earlier age. These benefits, therefore, are not just supplementing an early retirement—they are replacing an income for many years that may need to support children and a household, aging or sick parents, and college and retirement.”
Decades ago, Congress established the Black Lung Benefits Act in conjunction with the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 to provide monthly compensation and medical coverage for coal miners who develop black lung disease and are totally disabled as a result. However, many miners and their families have been subjected to drawn-out legal challenges after being awarded black lung benefits. Frequently, these benefits are appealed by employers and if the benefit determination is overturned, recipients must pay back the money. In some cases, these challenges have taken years to resolve, causing undue stress to families that rely on these benefits to survive.
The Senators continued, “We have also heard from miners’ attorneys that almost all of the miners and families that they represent raise the fear of repayment with them and it frequently deters these families from using any of the interim benefits that they desperately need, regardless of how strong their respective cases are because they cannot afford to take the risk of being forced to repay a large sum of money. Since these cases can last for so long, many miners die from black lung disease before they are able to confidently spend their benefits without fear of a future repayment.”’
To help ensure that adequate benefits are provided, the senators are requesting a study that answers the following questions:
1. What are the state and Federal disability benefits that coal miners and their families can receive as a result of black lung?
2. What challenges have miners and their families faced in obtaining black lung disability benefits, including but not limited to recoupment?
3. How do these benefits affect the health and financial well-being of miners and their families, and what, if any, changes are needed?
Last year, Sens. Warner, Kaine, Casey, Brown, and Manchin introduced The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act, legislation to make needed updates to the Black Lung Benefits Act to ensure Congress is fulfilling its commitment to the nation’s coal miners. To help fulfill those promises, in August of 2022, Congress approved a permanent extension of the black lung excise tax to fund the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund (BLDTF) that provides health insurance and a living stipend for those impacted by black lung as part of the Inflation Reduction Act.
“The UMWA has been at the forefront of battling black lung disease for more than fifty years. Enacted by Congress in 1969 as part of the Federal Mine Health and Safety Act, the black lung benefits system has been helpful to thousands of miners and their families. But more needs to be done. The cost of living has dramatically increased since 1969, miners are contracting the disease at younger ages and there are more severe forms of the disease. This GAO study will bring important answers on how to improve the benefit system so that all miners and their families receive the benefits they deserve,” said Cecil E. Roberts, International President of the United Mineworkers of America.
“The black lung benefits system was created over fifty years ago and since its creation has served as a lifeline for so many mining families,” said Rebecca Shelton, Director of Policy for Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center. “But a lot can change in fifty years. We know that the cost of living has increased, that more miners have severe forms of the disease, and that miners are getting sick at younger ages. This GAO study asks critical questions to determine whether the benefits system is still adequately serving families in spite of these and many other changes and will ensure that the benefits system continues to serve mining families as it was meant to.”
“Miners disabled by black lung deserve more than what they are currently receiving — $738 per month even for those with total disability,” said Appalachian Voices Legislative Director Chelsea Barnes. “We believe this GAO study will show that black lung disability benefits should be significantly increased to meet the needs of miners who are no longer able to work and provide for their families as a result of this debilitating disease.”
Warner, Crapo, Adeyemo applaud $1 billion in deposit commitments for minority & community lenders
U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Mike Crapo (R-ID), co-chairs of the Community Development Finance Caucus, joined Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo and leaders from the corporate and banking sectors for a significant announcement on Capitol Hill. Members of the Economic Opportunity Coalition revealed that they have successfully secured $1 billion in committed deposits for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and Minority Depository Institutions (MDIs). This milestone represents a major step toward expanding lending capacity and economic opportunities for underserved communities and small businesses recovering from the impact of the pandemic.
The infusion of private sector funding will complement the federal investment of $12 billion, secured by Senators Warner and Crapo as part of the bipartisan COVID relief package approved by Congress at the end of 2020. This joint effort aims to strengthen and enhance the lending capabilities of CDFIs and MDIs. The additional deposits announced during the event will help these institutions improve their loan-to-deposit ratios, allowing for increased lending while maintaining adequate liquidity.
Senator Warner emphasized the significance of empowering minority and community lenders as a means to unlock economic potential in often overlooked communities. By leveraging returns on public investment and investing in entrepreneurs and small businesses in financially underserved areas, the private-sector partnership exemplifies the commitment to fostering economic growth and addressing inequality.
Senator Crapo expressed his enthusiasm for the milestone achieved by the Economic Opportunity Coalition, highlighting the critical role played by private sector investment in supporting underserved and rural communities. The partnership between the public and private sectors is instrumental in ensuring the long-term sustainability and economic advancement of areas in greatest need.
Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo underscored the importance of bridging economic inequalities across the nation. He emphasized that the collaborative efforts of the public and private sectors showcased the impact of coordinated partnerships in addressing economic disparities and maximizing the unprecedented investments made by the Biden-Harris Administration in underserved communities.
Michael Roth, Co-lead of the Economic Opportunity Coalition and Co-CEO of Next Street highlighted the role of CDFIs and MDIs in supporting small businesses, aspiring homeowners, community infrastructure, and affordable housing. Moving deposits to these community-based lenders facilitates access to credit in areas where traditional financial services are limited, unavailable, or unaffordable. While the milestone of $1 billion in deposits is significant, Roth emphasized that it is just the beginning and called for further action to continue supporting underserved communities.
The Economic Opportunity Coalition, launched by Vice President Harris in July of last year, comprises over two dozen corporations and philanthropies committed to making substantial investments in communities of color. The coalition aims to address economic disparities and accelerate economic opportunities for these communities. Representatives from Wells Fargo, Next Street, KeyBank, TIAA, Citi, and Bank of America were present at the event.
Martin Eakes, CEO of Self-Help Credit Union, praised the leaders and their associates for their actions, noting that the Emergency Capital Investment Program (ECIP) had been a game-changer. The program provided equity investments that mission-based financial institutions could leverage to attract additional deposits and debt, resulting in billions of dollars of lending capital that will create opportunities for homeownership and businesses in communities of color across the country.
Dominik Mjartan, President and CEO of Optus Bank, emphasized the significant growth and impact that the bank has experienced through transformational investments from the private sector. These investments have allowed the bank to double its loan portfolio in 2022, with over 90% of loans directed to mission-aligned communities.
Darrin Williams, Southern Bancorp, Inc. CEO, highlighted the importance of the commitments made to CDFIs and MDIs in significantly expanding their impact on working Americans who have historically faced challenges in achieving economic prosperity. He emphasized the capacity of the industry to finance positive economic change in underserved areas, from rural America to urban centers.
How is that whole “infrastructure law” thing going, anyway?
Often, the news just shows you the flashbulb moments, like when a bill is finally signed into law. When a tragedy first begins to unfold. When a huge gaffe is made. You may not hear as much about the progressive improvements brought to you by Congress. I want to take a moment to check in with you about our bipartisan infrastructure law. Over the past year and a half, the law has paid dividends for Virginia.
For those struggling with the cost or accessibility of internet coverage, the law has lowered internet bills, and you can see if you qualify for a rebate here. It’s also expanding broadband, as Virginia is using funding to create a strategic plan to get coverage to more homes. Once that plan is completed, there’s more money available to enact it, getting more Virginians high-speed, accessible, and affordable internet.
Drank water recently? Virginia is receiving $46 million to remove lead pipes and lower lead levels in some Virginia drinking water. Virginia also got $22 million to reclaim abandoned mine lands, which will limit acid mine drainage in local water while also revitalizing mining communities.
For those that use public transit, we’ve made wide-reaching investments in transit systems across the Commonwealth. In Northern Virginia, you may have heard that the Metro recently opened seven new stops in six months… a pretty remarkable pace. This follows a guaranteed eight-year investment in WMATA. But it isn’t just NoVA that’s getting cash… smaller communities across the entire Commonwealth – from Staunton to Bristol to Lynchburg – are getting guaranteed funds to improve their systems.
For air travelers, we’ve seen scads of investments in improving airports. From smaller ones like Luray Caverns to the most busy – Dulles, Norfolk, Richmond, and more – airports across the Commonwealth are getting funds to expand and make overdue upgrades.
For those interested in equity and urban planning, the law secured grants for Richmond and Hampton Roads that will begin to reconnect two historically Black communities displaced by the development of the interstate system. You can learn more about these investments from this 13 News Now reporting.
To be frank, there’s a lot more things I could list here… huge across-the-board investments in road and bridge quality, coastal resilience and flood mitigation, electric vehicle infrastructure, and more… but I don’t want to write you too long of an email. If you’re interested in learning about more of the successes from this law, check out my webpage here, which compiles some graphics and press releases about what this landmark law has accomplished.
If you want to get in touch with me about infrastructure or another issue that is important to you, you can reach out to me using the form on my website. You can also stay in the loop by following my Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. I look forward to hearing from you.
Sixth District Perspectives with Congressman Ben Cline – May 22, 2023
In honor of National Police Week, House Republicans continued to proudly support America’s law enforcement officers by passing legislation to improve officer safety and allow officers to purchase retired service weapons. Additionally, the long-awaited Durham Report confirmed what we knew to be true. The FBI’s investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign and “Russia collusion” was nothing more than an illegal, unlawful, and un-American abuse of power. As always, I enjoyed meeting with constituents, businesses, and organizations on the issues most important to them. As we head into another busy week of session, I will continue fighting to make Washington work for families across Virginia’s Sixth District.
BACK THE BLUE
America’s law enforcement officers are the best among us. As we celebrated National Police Week this week, I was proud to honor our brave men and women in uniform in VA-06 and across the Nation by joining my colleagues in passing legislation that shows we have their backs.
Deporting Illegal Immigrants Who Assault Police
President Biden’s border crisis continues with a massive influx of illegal migrants crossing our southern border, and law enforcement agents on the front lines are paying the price. These officers, who are working tirelessly to secure the border and keep our communities safe, are being assaulted by migrants. That is unacceptable.
This week, House Republicans passed H.R. 2494, the POLICE Act of 2023, which makes assaulting a police officer a deportable offense. As the border crisis rages on unchecked and assaults against law enforcement officers continue to rise, House Republicans are committed to doing everything we can to hold accountable those who seek to harm America’s men and women in blue and in brown.
Allowing Federal Law Enforcement to Purchase Service Weapons
Currently, federal law enforcement agencies are required to destroy service weapons after they are retired from official use, resulting in a massive waste of taxpayer dollars since these weapons are paid for both when they go into circulation and when they are retired. This is yet another example of costly regulations and unnecessary red tape.
Federal law enforcement officers should be able to purchase their government-issued handguns when they retire. That is why House Republicans passed H.R. 3091, the Federal Law Enforcement Officer Service Weapon Purchase Act, to give our officers that right and save millions of tax dollars. This commonsense legislation is a win for our federal law enforcement officers and American taxpayers.
Disturbing New Report on Abuses of Government Power by US Intelligence Agencies
In October of 2020, former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr appointed Special Counsel John Durham to examine the origins and justifications of the FBI’s investigation against then-candidate Donald Trump and his 2016 campaign for alleged “Russia collusion.”
After nearly four years of investigation, Durham released the report this week that found that the FBI had no actual evidence of collusion to begin investigating. Even worse, individuals at the highest levels of the federal government allowed the investigation to continue, despite any firm evidence of Russian collusion.
Simply put — this was an intentional weaponization of the federal government against a political opponent, and there must be accountability. Rest assured, the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee will get answers.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve as your Congressman. If my office can ever be of assistance, please contact my Washington office at (202) 225-5431.
For the latest updates from Washington and across the Sixth District, please follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for the latest updates.
Bipartisan legislation to combat fentanyl trafficking introduced
Families across Virginia and the country have lost mothers, fathers, children, siblings, and other loved ones to the substance use epidemic, and I’m determined to do more to prevent these tragedies. While there are many ways to combat the epidemic—including better access to mental health and substance use treatment—we must also tackle the influx of fentanyl into the United States.
The fentanyl crisis is hurting more and more American families. Overdose deaths related to fentanyl have increased dramatically over the past decade. In Virginia, there were 50 deaths related to fentanyl in 2012. In 2021, fentanyl took the lives of nearly 2,000 Virginians.
That’s why I introduced a bipartisan bill with Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) earlier this week to declare fentanyl a national security threat and direct the Department of Defense (DOD) to work with other federal agencies and our Mexican counterparts to create a strategy to counter fentanyl trafficking by transnational criminal organizations. The DOD plays a key role in our nation’s counter-drug intelligence and monitoring operations, and they can provide critical information and training to federal law enforcement agencies to help curb the flow of fentanyl into the U.S. This bill would help them expand that critical role.
Read more about the Disrupt Fentanyl Trafficking Act here>>>
I’m thinking of the families that have been impacted by the crisis. I’m going to push to include this legislation in the annual defense bill, and I’ll continue working to address the substance use epidemic.
I look forward to keeping in touch and hearing about the issues that matter most to you. If you or a loved one is experiencing an issue with a federal agency, please reach out to a member of my staff here. If you’d like to receive updates on my work in the U.S. Senate, you may sign up here and follow me on Facebook or Twitter.
Rep. Ben Cline on passage of Secure the Border Act of 2023: Major step towards tackling Biden’s border crisis
On May 11, 2023, Congressman Ben Cline (R-VA) voted for, and the U.S. House of Representatives passed, H.R. 2, the Secure the Border Act of 2023. The House Judiciary Committee, which Congressman Cline serves on, played a leading role in crafting this legislation and worked hard to make this the strongest border security package Congress has ever considered.
“Since his first day in office, President Biden has actively worked to weaken our southern border through radical open border policies that have resulted in the worst border crisis in history – turning every community, including Virginia’s Sixth District, into border communities,” said Cline. “From halting construction of the border wall to deciding to lift Title 42 removal authority, President Biden has willingly and knowingly failed to protect the southern border and uphold the rule of law. While Biden and Secretary Mayorkas desperately attempt to downplay this crisis and tell Americans to just deal with it, House Republicans passed the strongest border security package in the history of Congress that secures America’s borders and restores our Nation’s rule of law and sovereignty.”
The Secure the Border Act of 2023:
• Reforms the asylum system by preventing fraud, raising the credible fear standard, and returning asylum to its historical roots and original intent.
• Ends the Biden Administration’s “catch and release” policy and gives the federal government additional tools to secure the border.
• Addresses the exploitation of children and ensures that children remain together, or are reunited, with their parents.
• Reduces the jobs magnet for illegal immigration.
Warner on DEA extension of current flexibilities around telehealth prescriptions of certain medications
U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) released the statement below after the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) announced that it would extend current flexibilities around telehealth prescriptions of controlled substances, including those that treat opioid use disorder and anxiety, while it reviews a record number of comments received in response to its new proposed telemedicine rules. This move follows strong advocacy by Sen. Warner, who spoke out in March about the need to ensure that patients can continue getting their medications and sent a letter to the DEA in August 2022 asking them to explain their plan for continuity of care after the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency.
“I’m pleased to see that the DEA is taking additional time to consider the comments to their proposed rule, which I believe overlooked the key benefits and lessons learned during the pandemic. This proposed rule could counterproductively exacerbate the opioid crisis and push patients to seek dangerous alternatives to proper health care, such as self-medicating, by removing a telehealth option in many cases. I’m working with my colleagues in Congress on a response to DEA’s proposed rule, and I look forward to further robust discussion on this critical issue.”
During COVID-19, patients widely adopted telehealth as a convenient and accessible way to get care remotely. This was made possible by the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, which allowed for a number of flexibilities, including utilizing an exception to the in-person medical evaluation requirement under the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act, legislation regulating the online prescription of controlled substances. With the Public Health Emergency set to expire, patients will soon lose the ability to reap the benefits of a mature telehealth system in which responsible providers know how to take care of their patients remotely when appropriate.
Since 2008, Congress has directed the DEA to set up a special registration process, another exception process under the Ryan Haight Act, that would open up the door for quality health care providers to evaluate a patient and prescribe controlled substances over telehealth safely, as they’ve done during the pandemic. This special registration process has yet to be established, and DEA wrote they believe this proposed rule fulfills those Congressional mandates, despite not proposing such a registration.
Sen. Warner, a former tech entrepreneur, has been a longtime advocate for increased access to telehealth. He is a co-author of the CONNECT for Health Act, which would expand coverage of telehealth services through Medicare, make COVID-19 telehealth flexibilities permanent, improve health outcomes, and make it easier for patients to connect safely with their doctors. He previously wrote to both the Biden and Trump administrations, urging the DEA to finalize regulations long-delayed by prior administrations allowing doctors to prescribe controlled substances through telehealth. Sen. Warner also sent a letter to Senate leadership during the height of the COVID-19 crisis, calling for the permanent expansion of access to telehealth services.
In 2018, Sen. Warner included a provision to expand financial coverage for virtual substance use treatment in the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. In 2003, then-Gov. Warner expanded Medicaid coverage for telemedicine statewide, including evaluation and management visits, a range of individual psychotherapies, the full range of consultations, and some clinical services, including cardiology and obstetrics. Coverage was also expanded to include non-physician providers. Among other benefits, the telehealth expansion allowed individuals in medically underserved and remote areas of Virginia to access quality specialty care that isn’t always available at home.
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