The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) announced changes to the self-insurance process for coal mine operators that it says will better support the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.

The Black Lung Benefits Act requires each coal mine operator to secure the payment of its potential benefits liability by either qualifying as a self-insurer or by purchasing and maintaining a commercial insurance contract. OWCP is responsible for authorizing coal mine operators to self-insure and setting the appropriate security amounts. Securing benefits liability protects the Trust Fund, which pays benefits when operators fail to make payments due to bankruptcy or other reasons.

According to the DOL, benefit payments to miners and survivors are not in jeopardy. In cases when the Trust Fund would be insufficient, federal law requires the U.S. Treasury to make repayable advances to the Trust Fund to meet all benefit obligations.

“Good stewardship of the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund is a critical responsibility owed to the American taxpayer,” said Julia Hearthway, director of the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs. “OWCP has put a new process in place that will help protect the Trust Fund by ensuring that self-insured mine operators have the resources needed to meet their obligations without Trust Fund support.”

OWCP has approved important reforms to the self-insurance authorization process to ensure that coal mine operators have adequate security to cover their liabilities. This process is now fully underway with current reviews of all self-insured coalmine operators. In part, the assessment involves reviewing actuarial estimates of the operators’ liabilities and setting security amounts based on those liabilities and the operators’ risk of default. The rigorous process that OWCP has put in place will help protect the Trust Fund from operator default for years to come.

The mission of OWCP is to protect the interests of workers who are injured or become ill on the job, their families and their employers by making timely, appropriate and accurate decisions on claims, providing prompt payment of benefits, and helping injured workers return to gainful work as early as is feasible.

The mission of the Department of Labor is to foster, promote and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights.