Congressman Griffith's Weekly E-Newsletter 2.27.17
Black Lung Benefits
Southwest Virginia is home to many folks who have proudly spent their working lives in coal mines to support their families. Many of them have been impacted by coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, or Black Lung. Miners who are diagnosed with the disease are entitled to certain federal monetary and medical benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Program.
Last week, I visited the Stone Mountain Health Services Black Lung Clinic in St. Charles to hear the concerns of those providing the much needed medical care and educational support for day-to-day wellness for these miners. I saw the hard work these caregivers put forth for each patient and spoke with some suffering from this disease who depend on these benefits, along with their spouses.
While there, I saw a video of Jerry Moore from Jonesville. He has passed away, but he was proud to have spent his life digging coal. Although proud to be a coal miner, he wished there was a less complicated system to provide benefits to take care of him when he got the disease.
I agree with him. Being able to receive these benefits is important. As a step in that direction, I reintroduced the Black Lung Benefits Act, providing a measure of continued equity for Black Lung survivors.
This bill preserves amendments made to the Black Lung Benefits Act by Obamacare which remove hurdles for recipients. Originally, the benefits were designed for miners meeting the criteria with a lung disability. It was presumed that the disability was due to Black Lung, unless the coal operators could prove otherwise. Furthermore, if a miner was awarded benefits at the time of his death, the spouse would be automatically entitled to benefits.
However, in 1981 the burden of proof shifted to the coal miner and the spouse, which in some cases prevented the coal miner and/or spouse from collecting the benefits they deserved.
Last minute amendments to Obamacare restored the original presumptions, removing an obstacle to claiming the benefits. This was the right policy decision.
I’ve introduced this bill protecting miners in the past in hopes of an Obamacare repeal, but now that repeal is imminent, it is important to preserve the Black Lung Benefits.
It is inappropriate to prevent coal miners and their spouse from receiving Black Lung benefits that they need.
Last week, the Lee County Public Schools held their first Digital Learning Day/Reading Month to demonstrate their use of digital learning. To enhance their learning and communications, they are using new technology, including live streaming, transmitting an event live over the Internet. From the Lee County Public Library, there was a live stream over the Internet to the schools. Standing in the library, I was able to answer questions from students across Lee County – including Lee High, Dryden, and Pennington Gap. The live stream went through their school YouTube, an Internet Channel, and classes across the county were able to join in, watch, and even ask questions.
Among others, in attendance was Board of Supervisor Member DD Leonard, School Board Member Rob Hines, School Superintendent Brian Austin, Sheriff Gary Parsons, Brandon Napier from the Southwest Virginia Museum, Amy Bond the Regional Library Director, Debbie Jessee from the School Board, student Ethan Fields on the banjo, Mike Gilley and Amy Bagnall with folk tales and music, and even a Master Falconer, Mitch Whitaker. Students across Lee County were able to hear, see, and learn from the lineup of speakers on a variety of topics, without any travel required.
Technology has greatly enhanced the options for communicating with others, particularly in rural areas where schools and homes are further spread out and geography presents challenges. The new technology was exciting and I enjoyed hearing from many different students.
In our region, using tele-technology can be much more effective than traditional means of communication, whether for education, healthcare, or communicating with constituents. Accordingly, I have asked the President to include rural broadband in any infrastructure package he proposes.
As technology advances, I look forward to further utilizing technology in my office. Currently, we are in the process of installing new equipment to communicate with constituents using this technology.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.