More than 20,000 coal miners are breathing a sigh of relief today, after winning a last-minute reprieve for their health care benefits, which were about to end due to coal company bankruptcies.

The 2017 fiscal spending agreement to avert a government shutdown reached by Congress on Sunday includes a provision that coal companies and the federal government will pay for healthcare benefits for retired coal miners. The action partially preserves the Krug-Lewis agreement guaranteeing health and pension benefits for coal miners that was brokered by President Harry Truman in 1946.

Miners for years accepted lower wages in exchange for health care benefits for life. The potential loss of that was predicted to financially devastate miners and their families, along with entire communities and towns in coal mining regions of the country.

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AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Congress “did the right thing” in providing permanent funding for the coal miners’ health care.

“The members of my union, the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), dug the coal that powered this country for the last 150 years and created massive wealth for American industry,” said Trumka, whose coal miner father suffered from Black Lung disease. “Our union members kept our part of the bargain while mining corporations used bankruptcy laws to break their promises to provide good health benefits and a secure retirement.”

Pensions, however, did not receive a bailout under the agreement.

Pensions still in limbo

If passed, the Miners Protection Act would transfer funds from the Abandoned Mine Land fund to the UMWA’s pension plan to prevent its insolvency. Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) is a strong supporter of the bill, noting that he is “determined than ever to fulfill our whole obligation and secure retired miners pension benefits as well.”

Failing that, the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. could be used to pay the pensions.