Representatives David McKinley (R-WV) and Peter Welch (D-VT) introduced legislation yesterday to assist workers who have lost their jobs due to a downturn in the coal industry. The Healthy Employee Loss Prevention Act (HELP Act)would provide assistance to eligible workers with retraining, job searches, and relocation.
"Across West Virginia communities are being decimated by what's happening to the coal industry," said McKinley. "Coal miners and other workers are being hurt by factors beyond their control, whether it's regulations or market forces. It's only fair we do something to help these struggling families. This legislation represents a bipartisan effort to move beyond our differences and offer help to the proud men and women of the coal industry who are out of work."
"American coal workers are national heroes," said Welch. "With grit and determination, they fueled America's rise to an economic powerhouse. While there are strongly held views in Congress on climate change and energy policy, there should be no disagreement that America has an obligation to ensure displaced workers in the coal industry transition successfully to good jobs in other sectors. I am proud to work with Rep. McKinley on this shared goal."
The McKinley-Welch legislation establishes a transition assistance program for displaced workers in coal communities. It is modeled after the Trade Adjustment Assistance Actwhich assists workers displaced due to foreign trade.
The bill creates a commission to approve eligibility for assistance.
Workers will be eligible if their job loss is tied to a downturn in the coal industry related to a variety of factors, including cheaper alternative fuel sources, federal regulations, existence of state to state energy markets, or other causes as determined by the commission.
Eligible workers will receive benefits for up to one year and can apply for a one year extension.
Eligible workers will receive assistance for worker training and be eligible for Workforce Investment Act benefits.
Assistance can also be used for relocation and job searches.
Payments to workers participating in the training program will be calculated based on the amount of unemployment insurance a worker is eligible to receive.
Payments from a readjustment allowance can be made to workers participating in a training program. The payments are made in lieu of unemployment insurance or can be taken after a worker has exhausted unemployment benefits.
In a letter endorsing The HELP Act, the Blue-Green Alliance, a coalition of unions and environmental organizations, said "It's critical that we support workers and their communities when jobs are lost due to no fault of their own--which is what is happening in the coal industry. We applaud Reps. Welch and McKinley for showing the leadership to take this issue head on."
McKinley and Welch are members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.