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Kentucky Miners Rally At U.S. Capitol To Protect Benefits

United Mine Workers of America

Thousands of retired coal miners from Kentucky and a dozen other states gathered at the U.S. Capitol Thursday to defend their health and pension benefits.

The United Mine Workers of America rallied in support of an agreement forged 70 years ago under President Harry Truman guaranteeing them lifetime benefits – benefits they say could begin drying up by the end of this year if Congress doesn’t take action.

Speaking with reporters ahead of the rally, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said the roughly 120,000 former miners and families who rely on the payments represent an especially vulnerable population.   

"It's the most fragile of people in these communities," he said. "In these communities, basically the coal mines have long shut down and gone, so all we're asking for is the compassion, to do the right thing, fulfill the commitment and promise that we made."

The issue has split coal-state Republicans – with some, including Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, hesitant to bail out union workers. The Associated Press reports Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has aligned herself with mine workers’ cause.

Update 9-9-16: A spokesman for Sen. Mitch McConnell has released this statement: "Leader McConnell met with Kentucky UMWA retirees [Thursday] to discuss the issue, and he’s also discussed it and other matters impacting the coal industry with members of the UMWA on multiple occasions. He continues to believe this issue deserves an open, transparent debate through regular order, and he appreciates the Senate Finance Committee’s commitment to take it seriously. He will continue to work with his colleagues on the path forward."

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.