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Statement About Signing the Black Lung Benefits Act of 1972

May 20, 1972

TODAY I have signed H.R. 9212, the Black Lung Benefits Act of 1972.

This legislation extends for 18 months the Federal responsibility for operating a transitional program enacted in 1969 to provide cash benefits for coal miners disabled by black lung disease.

Under the original law, lifetime monthly benefits have been awarded to more than 260,000 miners, widows, and dependents at a Federal cost of more than $600 million.

The Black Lung Benefits Act of 1972 will mean that tens of thousands of additional miners and their dependents will be eligible for lifetime benefits from the Federal Government, because of its extension of filing time and because it provides for generous liberalization of eligibility requirements.

I am heartened that this legislation provides benefits for orphans of black lung victims, who are excluded in the present law through legislative oversight. Other dependents are covered but not orphans. Under the new law, some 2,000 orphans of black lung victims--and all such orphans in the future--will receive the benefits to which they should be fully entitled.

Nevertheless, I sign this legislation with mixed emotions, not over whether miners, widow's, and their dependents need this assistance--they do--but because of the precedent it tends to establish.

This legislation departs from the U.S. tradition that compensation for work-related accidents and diseases should be provided by State workmen's compensation laws, financed by the owners of the industries containing the hazards. Responsibility for black lung compensation clearly should lie with the owners and operators of the mines.

In this case, however, the States have not yet improved their owner-financed laws to meet the challenge posed by black lung--and there are too many victims of this dread disease for me not to have acted.

Therefore, I have moved to pick up the responsibility that others have neglected-so that disabled miners and their families will not be deserted by our society in their hour of critical and justified personal need.

The health and safety of coal miners has been a primary concern of this Administration. One of my earliest legislative recommendations was for more effective Federal laws in the area of coal mine health and safety, culminating in the enactment of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969. Since that law was enacted, major progress has been made in improving working conditions in our Nation's coal mines and in the protection offered to those who work in them.

The 1969 act established the temporary black lung benefits program. The legislation I have signed today will extend Federal responsibility for this program from January 1, 1972, to June 30, 1973. In the latter half of 1973, the Federal Government will continue to accept applications for black lung benefits but beneficiaries enrolled during this period will be transferred to the State programs on January 1, 1974.

I urge that all mining States review their workmen's compensation programs to make certain that adequate laws exist for the black lung disease by that time.

Note: As enacted, H.R. 9212, approved May 19, 1972, is Public Law 92-303 (86 Stat. 150).

Richard Nixon, Statement About Signing the Black Lung Benefits Act of 1972 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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