BCN-inner-hdr1a

Text Size: A A A

Shining a Light on Black Lung Benefits


The Federal Black Lung Program, which has been around since 1969, provides benefits to miners who contracted pneumoconiosis whilst working in coalmines and who have since become unable to work due to their condition. Coalworkers’ Pneumoconiosis (CWP), which is another term for Black Lung, is caused by long term exposure to coal dust and effectively scars the lungs leaving the miner unable to breathe. CWP has no cure and leads to death. Until recently the number of eligible applicants was dropping, although the cause for the decrease in new beneficiaries was conceivably due to increasingly stringent eligibility requirements. Since the advent of the Affordable Care Act there has been an acceptance of the prevalence of the disease and an acknowledgement of the need to provide some support for those affected. Eligibility figures are now on the rise.

The basic financial benefit remains modest. In 2018 an individual beneficiary has been eligible for $660.10 a month; if he has one dependent family member that figure is $990.10; with two dependents there’s an increase to $1,155.10; and the maximum a family can receive is 200% of the amount for an individual, which this year means a monthly income of $1,320.10. In addition to the financial benefit, the miner can expect to receive medical treatment for the condition at no cost to himself. Surviving family members of miners who died from the disease are also eligible for the financial benefit, but as they don’t have Back Lung themselves they don’t receive the medical coverage.

In most cases for Black Lung Beneficiaries who also receive Social Security benefits there’s going to be a significant effect on their SSDI or SSI. For SSI recipients Black Lung Benefits (BLB) are deemed to be ‘unearned’ income, much as SSDI is, and so all but the General Income Exclusion of $20 is counted. Therefore, this year a single SSI recipient with no dependents would expect to receive his $660 in BLB and $110 in SSI. For SSDI recipients the effect is actually more marked as BLB is treated as Workers’ Compensation. Here the full amount is ‘offset’ against the SSDI amount. If a single unemployed beneficiary with no recipients who had been receiving $800 in SSDI before becoming eligible for BLB then began to receive the additional benefit he would now see his SSDI reduced to $140. Of course, with his $660 in BLB he wouldn’t actually lose anything financially, and would receive the medical coverage that he would most certainly require.

As a footnote, the one case where there’s no effect at all on SSDI is for recipients of Part B Black Lung Benefits. This small and ever decreasing group of beneficiaries are receiving Part B Black Lung because their applications for the benefit were submitted before December 31, 1972. Prior to that date the Black Lung Program was administered by Social Security and those cases still are. (Cases initiated since 1973 have been administered by the Department of Labor.)

 

For further reading on the Black Lung Program please go here:

https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R45261.pdf

https://www.dol.gov/owcp/dcmwc/