Congress has approved a 2014 budget via the “Omnibus Bill.” (Its actual title is the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014,” the text of which is available here.)
The bill still requires the President’s signature, but he is expected to sign it by Saturday, when current funding runs out. [UPDATE: The President signed the Omnibus Bill into law on January 17, 2014.]
The Omnibus Bill largely meets the Department of Labor’s requests, however Congress gave the Office of Workers’ Compensation (OWCP) $5,000,000 less than requested for black lung benefits from claims filed before 1974 and gave the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) $4,834,000 less than requested. Although the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggested cutting the funding of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), by $20,677,000, Congress kept its budget largely flat, providing NIOSH with more funds than anticipated.
The following are the major budget lines related to black lung and mine safety and how they compare to the Department of Labor’s and the Centers for Disease Control’s requests:
- Black Lung Disability Trust Fund – Congress fully approved the request of the OWCP to continue to pay benefits out of the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund and to transfer $33,033,000 to OWCP for salaries and expenses of the Division of Coal Mine Workers’ Compensation, $25,365,000 for Departmental Managment for salaries and expenses (i.e., the Solicitor’s Office, ALJs, and Benefit Review Board), $327,000 for Departmental Management for the Office of Inspector General, and $356,000 for expenses of the Department of the Treasury.
- Note: OWCP budgeted $181,380,000 for trust fund benefit payments, which will go to 18,750 recipients. This budget is $23,915,000 less than spent on benefits in the FY 2012 budget. OWCP also estimated that it would be monitoring payments by coal mine operators to another 4,300 additional recipients and would be processing 5,500 incoming claims.
- Pre-1974 Black Lung Benefits Claims – Congress gave OWCP $5,000,000 less than it requested for black lung benefit payments from pre-1974 claims, resulting in an appropriation of $93,235,000 (plus an uncertain amount to cover any shortfalls arising in the last two months of FY 2014) for FY 2014 and $24,000,000 for the first quarter of FY 2015.
- Note: OWCP recieved an advanced FY 2014 appropriate of $35,000,000, so the effective FY 2014 budget is $128,234,000. This is a $49,000,000 reduction from the FY 2012 budget, all of which results from decreased benefit payments. OWCP estimates that it pays 16,500 beneficiaries who are entitled to benefits based on claims filed before 1974. (For comparison sake, in FY 2012, 21,025 beneficiaries received benefits on claims filed before 1974. At that rate, within a few years one would expect the benefits from pre-1974 claims to be a nominal portion of the federal budget.)
- Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) – Congress gave MSHA $4,834,000 less than it requested, resulting in a FY 2014 budget of $375,887,000. Congress also mandated that $8,441,000 of MSHA’s budget be dedicated to state assistance grants and did not grant MSHA’s request to give the Secretary of Labor authority to reallocate up to $3,000,000 for inspections or investigations under § 103 of the Mine Act.
- Note: MSHA’s FY 2012 budget was $373,293,000, so the FY 2014 budget represents only a 0.7% increase over the past two years. At MSHA’s request, the FY 2014 budget removes MSHA’s authority to transfer $3,000,000 to the Solicitor’s Office to address the backlog of cases before the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. MSHA said that such authority was “not needed.” Also, in comparison to the FY 2012 budget, MSHA is authorized to retain an additional $1,000,000 in fees collected for the approval and certification of equipment, materials, and explosives for use in mines (MSHA said such an increase was necessary due to increases in the costs of such tests). However, this change had previously been made by the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014 (Pub.L. 113–46) which was passed in October 2013 to end the partial government shutdown.
- In its budget request, MSHA said the following concerning its efforts to reduce respirable dust and prevent black lung.
“[Coal Mine Safety and Health (CMSH)] will continue its current Respirable Dust Emphasis program and take aggressive action to reduce miners’ overexposure to respirable coal dust. These efforts support MSHA’s Comprehensive Black Lung Reduction strategy which includes enhanced enforcement, education and training, and health outreach. In FY 2014, CMSH will conduct approximately 33 special dust emphasis inspections. In conjunction with regular inspections, CMSH will review operators’ dust monitoring programs and assure that operators are properly calibrating and maintaining dust sampling units. CMSH will continue to work with mining equipment manufacturers to identify the most effective engineering control measures and promote their use. These activities will help ensure the respiratory health of the nation’s miner.”
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) – Congress gave NIOSH $292,300,000, which is $20,677,000 more than the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) request.
- Note: NIOSH’s FY 2012 budget was $292,588,000, so the FY 2014 budget is less than a 0.1% decrease.
- In its budget request, NIOSH said the following regarding its efforts to reduce black lung:
“CDC works with underground coal mines in the U.S. to develop plans to perform x-ray surveillance for pneumoconiosis. Since 2008, at least 97 percent of active U.S. mines in the Coal Workers Health Surveillance Program have possessed a CDC-approved plan, well exceeding the 90 percent target . . . . A new regulation for digital chest imaging adopted in FY 2012 may bring additional mines into the program that do not have a CDC-approved plan. . . . By 2014, CDC expects Mining Sector interventions to achieve a 50 percent reduction in occupational illnesses due to respirable coal dust overexposure. Recent data from 2009 indicate a 30 percent reduction in coal dust exposure, more than double the initial 13.7 percent reduction achieved in 2003.”