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June 4, 2018

...UNLESS CONGRESS ACTS TO PROTECT COAL MINERS AND WIDOWS

WHITESBURG, KY -- Unless Congress takes action before the end of 2018, major financial problems face the public fund that provides black lung benefits to coal miners and their surviving dependents in cases where the miners’ employer has gone bankrupt, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released today.[1] In short, the safety net meant to help alleviate the harm from black lung when coal companies go bankrupt is itself in danger of insolvency.

“What’s unfolding across Appalachia right now is a national disgrace,” said Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center attorney Wes Addington. “Black lung is completely preventable, yet the disease is now afflicting an astounding 1 in 5 miners in Appalachia. The coal industry’s unconscionable response to the black lung epidemic has been that coal miners get black lung disease—and nothing else.”

Nearly 20,000 families across all 50 states depend on the Trust Fund, including more than 4,000 in Kentucky.[2] Dewanna Logan from Harrodsburg, Kentucky explains, “My husband Roy died from black lung when he was 55 after working as a coal miner for 20 years. The company where he worked went bankrupt, so I rely on the Black Lung Trust Fund for the little bit of benefits I get each month. Without the Trust Fund, I would be left with nothing from the disease that Roy suffered from.”

The Black Lung Disability Trust Fund is in dire need of protection for two reasons. First, we are in the midst of a sharp resurgence of black lung among coal miners—recent government data shows that rates of black lung have doubled since 2000.[3] Second, a wave of bankruptcies in the coal industry is putting increased pressure on the Trust Fund as the safety net for miners disabled by black lung. In 2017 alone, more than 2,500 black lung claims were transferred to the Trust Fund due to coal company bankruptcies.[4]

As attorney Evan Smith explains, “Coal miners are facing a one-two punch: black lung is worse than ever before and at the same time, the coal industry’s big players are filing for bankruptcy. The Black Lung Trust Fund is all that many coal families have left.”

The Trust Fund is financed by the Black Lung excise tax on coal operators. Today’s report found that increasing the tax by 25% would enable the Trust Fund to pay off its debt by 2050. Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center and other black lung advocates call on Congress to protect the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund by increasing the black lung excise tax by 25% or, at the bare minimum, maintaining the current rate on coal companies that has been in place for the last several decades.

If Congress does not act by the end of 2018, the tax rate will be reduced by more than half to 1978 levels, which previous Congresses have repeatedly recognized as insufficient to pay for the actual costs of black lung benefits. As today’s report says, if the scheduled coal tax decrease goes into effect, then in 2050 the Trust Fund will be $15.4 billion in debt. (GAO Report, at 19)

Donald R. Brown of Whitesburg, Kentucky worked as an underground coal miner for 26 years before he got black lung and eventually benefits from the Trust Fund. “I can’t do very much at all, but I couldn’t do without my medical benefits. I used to have to pay out of my pocket for my breathing treatments, and I couldn’t pay for it.”

“We appreciate Representative Bobby Scott’s leadership in protecting the benefits of miners battling black lung disease. With the facts of this report on the table, the time has come for Chairman Kevin Brady, House Speaker Paul Ryan, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take immediate action on the black lung excise tax,” said Steve Sanders, Director of Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center.

Extending the black lung tax rate also provides an opportunity to invest in the economic future of communities racked by the decline in coal jobs. While every dime of the revenue raised by the tax would continue to go to the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, under Congressional budgetary rules extending the tax would also enable Congress to spend a separate pot of existing money on the RECLAIM Act, H.R. 1731, which would create new jobs reclaiming abandoned coal mines. Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center considers pairing legislation that protects the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund with the RECLAIM Act the clear solution for struggling coal miners and their communities.

Main findings from the GAO report include:

If Congress does not act, the Trust Fund’s debt will increase by $11.3 billion (to $15.4 billion) by 2050. (GAO Report, at 19)
Without action, revenue to the Trust Fund may not be enough to cover benefits and administrative costs for 2020 through 2050 (GAO report, at 15)
Current black lung benefits are not the source of the Trust Fund’s problems. The Trust Fund is saddled with mountains of debt from the 70s and 80s. Even completely eliminating black lung benefits would still lead to a $6.4 billion debt. (GAO Report, at 22)
If current tax rates are maintained, the Trust Fund’s debt would only increase slightly by 2050. (GAO Report, at 19)
To balance the Trust Fund without a public bailout, coal tax rates need to increase by 25% (that is, an increase of 28¢ per ton on underground coal and 14¢ per ton on surface-mined coal). (GAO Report, at 25)

 

[1] Black Lung Benefits Program: Options for Improving Trust Fund Finances (2018), https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-18-351

[2] Black Lung Program Statistics, FY2017. Division of Coal Mine Workers’ Compensation, Department of Labor. https://www.dol.gov/owcp/dcmwc/statistics/bls2017/DistributionOfClaimsByState2017.htm

[3] Berkes, Howard. “New Studies Confirm a Surge in Coal Miners’ Disease.” NPR. May 23, 2018. https://www.npr.org/2018/05/22/613400710/new-studies-confirm-a-surge-in-coal-miners-disease

[4] Volcovici, Valerie. “U.S. Coal lobby fights black lung as disease rates surge.” Reuters. June 1, 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-coal-blacklung-insight/u-s-coal-lobby-fights-black-lung-tax-as-disease-rates-surge-idUSKCN1IX4EG

 

 

June 4, 2018

Conn has said he 'knows others involved', may give names for time off sentence

ERIC C. CONN LIVED IN PIKEVILLE BUT OPERATED THIS LAW OFFICE IN FLOYD CO. WHERE HE STOLE MILLIONS FROM TAXPAYERS OVER THE YEARSERIC C. CONN LIVED IN PIKEVILLE BUT OPERATED THIS LAW OFFICE IN FLOYD CO. WHERE HE STOLE MILLIONS FROM TAXPAYERS OVER THE YEARS

Former Eastern Kentucky disability lawyer Eric C. Conn pleaded guilty Monday to three felonies that carry a 15-year prison sentence.

The latest sentence will add to a 12-year sentence Conn began serving in December on separate charges related to fraud against the Social Security Administration, for a total sentence of 27 years.

U.S. District Judge Danny C. Reeves accepted the plea deal during a hearing Monday in Lexington.

Conn, 58, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the Social Security Administration; conspiracy to escape; and conspiracy to retaliate against a witness.Conn, 58, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the Social Security Administration; conspiracy to escape; and conspiracy to retaliate against a witness.Conn, 58, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the Social Security Administration; conspiracy to escape; and conspiracy to retaliate against a witness.

Conn, who lived in Pikeville and had his office in Floyd County, was once one of the top-paid federal disability lawyers in the nation.

However, last year he admitted he used false evidence of physical or mental disabilities in clients’ claims for benefits, paid medical professionals to approve claims with little scrutiny, and paid more than $600,000 in bribes to a Social Security judge, David L. Daugherty, who approved claims for Conn’s clients.

The conspiracy involved thousands of cases.

Conn was on home detention awaiting sentencing when he fled the country last June. He ended up in Honduras, where police caught him on Dec. 2 at a Pizza Hut where he’d gone for lunch.

Federal prosecutors had agreed to dismiss the original 18-count indictment against Conn as part of a deal in which he pleaded guilty to two related charges that resulted in the 12-year sentence.

However, after Conn fled, prosecutors kept those 18 charges in place, and a grand jury added four more based on his escape.

The plea he entered Monday resolves all charges.

There is no parole in the federal system but inmates can trim sentences by 15 percent for good conduct. That means Conn could cut his sentence to 23 years.

However, Conn also could get a further sentence reduction by giving authorities information about others involved in fraud, if he has such information.

Conn has told the Herald-Leader in letters that he had knowledge about others who have not yet been charged being involved in fraud.

By Bill Estep
Lexington Herald-Leader

May 31, 2018

TaxAnswers.ky.gov, to inform residents about tax changes made during the 2018 General Assembly

Kentucky Press News Service

FRANKFORT - Beginning July 1, Kentucky residents will begin paying new taxes.

The Kentucky Department of Revenue announced Thursday the launch of a new website, TaxAnswers.ky.gov, to inform residents about tax changes made during the 2018 General Assembly, a state news release said.

Beginning July 1, some services provided in Kentucky will be subject to sales tax. Several other types of taxes are also impacted by the new law.

Ky. tax help TaxAnswers.ky.govKy. tax help TaxAnswers.ky.gov

The new site features guidance information, answers to many frequently asked questions and links to technical guidance. Additional content will continue to be added, the news release said.

Many service providers will now be responsible for collecting sales and use tax. If not already registered with the Department of Revenue, these businesses need to do so online at onestop.ky.gov.

“Our goal is to assist taxpayers in becoming and remaining compliant. These changes have an impact on many Kentuckians, so we want to make sure we are giving taxpayers as much information as possible," Department of Revenue Commissioner Daniel Bork said. "This site is one of the best ways to do that.”

DOR also has a dedicated email address This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and phone number (502) 564-5700 to assist taxpayers.

 

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