- Associated Press - Friday, April 4, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Members of West Virginia’s congressional delegation have joined Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in questioning a sharp drop in federal funding for the state’s black lung clinics.

State officials say grants for the federal Black Lung Clinic program were recently capped without notice at $900,000 per state. West Virginia had been the only state to receive more than that annually. The state received $1.4 million last year.

Tomblin wrote this week to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius about the change that he said will jeopardize services for nearly 8,500 West Virginians. U.S. Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick Rahall, all Democrats, also voiced their support for restoring the funding.

Black lung disease, or pneumoconiosis, is caused by inhaling coal dust. West Virginia has eight black lung community clinics, and the state Department of Health and Human Resources wants to add a ninth clinic.

“We need to do more to help miners who are suffering from this disease, not less,” Rockefeller said. “West Virginia has among the highest rates of black lung disease in the nation, and miners throughout Appalachia deserve our absolute best efforts at providing the health care treatment they so badly need.”

According to the Labor Department’s website, 549,619 black lung claims were filed nationwide and payouts topped $210 million in fiscal 2012, the latest year available. The number of claims and payouts in West Virginia were second only to Pennsylvania.

Black lung has caused or contributed to the deaths of more than 75,000 miners since 1968.

“Our coal miners have mined the coal that keeps our lights on, heats our homes and powers our businesses” Manchin said. “Every single miner who suffers from black lung disease should receive the best medical care possible. It is essential that we find a long-term solution to this issue so that our eight black lung clinics around our great state will get the funding they need to treat their patients.”