Since 1973, coal miners who contract black lung disease have been eligible for monthly payments and medical benefits through a program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. The program recognizes the incurable affliction as an occupational hazard brought on by the inhalation of air thick with coal dust.
Because of a shortage of judges, the black lung program has seen an 18 percent jump over nine years in the number of pending cases — nearly 3,000 at the end of last year. Driven into unemployment by their debilitating disease, miners are forced to pay their medical bills out of pocket for as long as two years. By the time some cases are approved, the disease has claimed their lives.
Members of Congress are asking the federal Office of Management and Budget to give another $10 million to the Labor Department so that 20 more judges can be hired to review cases. The program must be restored to full effectiveness. Ailing former workers are entitled to speedy help, not harmful delay.