Statement on Signing Black Lung Program Reform Legislation

December 29, 1981

I am pleased to sign into law H.R. 5159, which contains the ``Black Lung Benefits Revenue Act of 1981'' and the ``Black Lung Benefits Amendments of 1981''. This bill embodies this administration's comprehensive black lung reform proposals.

I commend the Members of the Congress on both sides of the aisle who steered this bill to passage. I am gratified that the bill represents the combined efforts of the coal industry, the insurance industry, and organized labor, especially the United Mine Workers, in working with the administration to achieve needed improvements in the black lung program.

A major purpose of this legislation is to restore solvency to the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. At present, the Fund has a deficit of approximately $1.5 billion. With no change in the law, the deficit would climb to $7 billion over the next 10 years. The bill addresses the revenue side of this problem by temporarily doubling the excise taxes on coal producers, but requiring that those rates revert to their present levels when the Fund becomes fully solvent, and in no case later than the end of 1995.

The bill also addresses eligibility criteria and benefit payments for the black lung program. These changes are needed to assure that the black lung program will provide adequate workers compensation benefits to coal miners suffering from black lung disease, while reducing the potential for substantial abuses.

I hope and expect that the spirit of cooperation between labor, industry, and the administration in enacting this important bill will continue in the coming months.

Note: As enacted, H.R. 5159 is Public Law 97 - 119, approved December 29.