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The 50th Anniversary of the 1972 Black Lung Benefits Act Amendment

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Today, the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs commemorates the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Black Lung Benefits Act Amendment. These changes to the Black Lung Benefits Act of 1969 significantly liberalized the eligibility requirements for the federal Black Lung Program, making it easier for miners with black lung disease and their families to receive benefits.

The Black Lung Benefits Act was originally enacted by Congress in 1969 as part of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act to provide benefits to coal miners disabled by pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease.

Later, Congress enacted the BLBA of 1972, which amended the original law and made it easier for miners to meet the eligibility requirements for benefits. The most notable change was the creation of a “15-year presumption” for miner’s claims. That is, if a miner was employed for at least 15 years in underground mines, and the miner had a totally disabling respiratory or pulmonary impairment, it would be rebuttably presumed that the miner’s total disability or death was due to pneumoconiosis.

More broadly, the passage of this legislation departed from the established convention that compensation for work-related injury and illness would be provided by a state workers’ compensation system and financed by employers in the industry that created the workplace hazards. At this time, the federal government determined that state systems were not adequately caring for miners with black lung, so it was necessary to intervene and provide sufficient support for disabled miners and their families.

While there have been several amendments to the BLBA since its inception, our agency commemorates the significance of the May 1972 amendments and reiterates our 50-plus year commitment to assisting coal miners and their survivors. We reiterate our long-standing pledge to coal miners and their survivors to ensure reliable, monthly monetary and medical benefits to those who qualify. I am proud of the hard work and dedication of our staff who continue to demonstrate their commitment to our important mission.

Chris Godfrey is director of the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs.

More information about the Black Lung Program is available on the DCMWC website. If you have questions about benefits or need help filing a claim, contact the program at 800-347-2502 or email DCMWC-public@dol.gov.

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