WHITESBURG, Ky. (WTVQ/CNN) – Coal miners in Eastern Kentucky are concerned that President-Elect Donald Trump’s plan to repeal Obamacare may mean they’ll lose black lung benefits.
Neil Yonts, a Democrat and coal miner for 35 years initially supported Hillary Clinton, but ended up voting for Trump.
“May be a mistake,” says Yonts, “but, I heard him say he’d bring coal back.”
Yonts began reconsidering his votes after being diagnosed with black lung disease.
“When they eliminate the Obamacare they may just eliminate all the black lung program,” says Yonts. “It may all be gone. Don’t matter how many years you got.”
Three sentences in the Affordable Care Act made it easier for victims of Black Lung to get monthly federal benefits is they worked 15 years or more in the mines – and if they died the benefits automatically extended to their widows.
Patty Amburgey just received her first payment after her husband, Crawford, died in 2007 after 32 years in the mines.
“To see it, in somebody you lived with 45 years go from a vibrant man to a child is very hard,” says Amburgey.
She says getting the payment can also be difficult: even with the law, it took her 3 years to receive a payment.
Now, her Black Lung Widow Benefit, along with Social Security and a tiny $62.00 dollar a month pension, keeps her financially afloat.
Keeping up with the bills in Letcher County is a major struggle for many. The unemployment rate stands at 10.3 percent – more than twice the national average.
“This area has seen a terrific decline in the number of coal mining jobs in the last 5 years and those jobs tended to be high paying jobs,” says Stephen Sanders, director of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center.
He says as jobs have evaporated, Obamacare benefits are more important than ever.
“President Elect Trump promised people that he was going to restore mining jobs, I don’t think he thought about what the Affordable Care Act might mean to miners who are applying for black lung benefits.”
Linda Adams, whose husband, Tony, died three years ago, also supported Trump, but is concerned about the loss of Black Lung benefits.
“If Obamacare goes away, we’re going to be in a world of depression,” says Adams.
Today, she devotes her life to helping others apply for benefits she hopes will survive even if Obamacare is abolished.
Content from CNN/Miguel Marquez