Sen. Gentile testifies in support of retired miners

Times Leader

Lou UMWACOLUMBUS, Ohio Ohio Sen. Lou Gentile testified this week before the Ohio Senate’s Transportation, Commerce and Labor Committee in support of Senate Concurrent Resolution 17, which urges Congress to enact the bipartisan Miners Protection Act pending in the U.S. Senate.

“Our retired coal miners have worked hard and have earned their pensions and benefits. Congress has an obligation to ensure that the promises made to them are kept,” said Gentile, D-Steubenville. “They have powered our homes and businesses and built this region. The Miners Protection Act keeps those
promises and protects retired miners.”

The Miners Protection Act would transfer certain federal funds that are not being used currently into the United Mine Workers of America 1974 Pension Plan in order to pay the full amount of the pensions and health benefits for beneficiaries. The act does not require new spending. It also allows for workers who retired from a company that has since filed for bankruptcy to be included in a separate plan in order to receive health care. Without Congressional action, the plan will be insolvent and retirees will likely see cuts in the amount of their pension and benefits.

Also present in the committee were members of the UMWA, including Babe Erdos, a resident of Belmont and Ohio legislative and political coordinator for the UMWA, who offered testimony in support of the resolution.

“Coal miners have worked hard, played by the rules, but through no fault of their own find their retirement in jeopardy. They deserve to retire with dignity and not be concerned about economic security,” Erdos testified.

The 1974 Pension Plan that pays out to retired miners is underfunded due to the 2008 financial crisis and the closing of several mining companies. The Miners Protection Act is a bipartisan effort to create solvency in the plan and ensure all retirees receive the full pension and health benefits they were promised. The act is sponsored by Democrat, Republican and Independent members of the U.S. Senate.

Also this week, the Ohio Senate Finance Committee voted to adopt a bill sponsored by Gentile as part of an amendment to a larger bill package, House Bill 483, regarding developmental disabilities. Gentile’s bill designates October as Disability History & Awareness Month.

“I am proud to offer this amendment. We have been working on this bill for over a year, and I’m glad to be able to make progress and see it become law,” said Gentile. “Being an advocate for Ohioans with disabilities is important, and this bill will allow more people and children to become aware of the incredible impact people with disabilities have on our communities.”

Gentile’s bill to designate disability awareness month originally passed the Ohio Senate in February with no opposition and 29 co-sponsors. After the Senate, it was sent to the Ohio House but was not scheduled for committee hearings. It was added to the larger bill package because Gentile was able to work with leadership in the Senate and the Department of Developmental Disabilities who agreed that it would be a good addition to state law.

The idea for a disability history and awareness month was brought to Gentile’s attention by Terrie Lincoln, a disability advocate from Marietta, Ohio. She founded Supporters of Disability Rights in the Mid-Ohio Valley, which is active in promoting disability rights in Southeastern Ohio.

The larger bill package, House Bill 483, passed the Ohio Senate and now heads to Gov. John Kasich’s desk.