WHITESBURG, Kentucky (CNN) – During his campaign, president-elect Donald Trump promised to bring coal back to the economy. Now, many in coal-country are worried they might lose benefits linked to black lung disease, if Trump repeals Obamacare.
The coal-laden hills of eastern Kentucky…Trump country.
Neil Yonts, a democrat and coal miner for 35 years, initially supported Hillary Clinton, but he “voted for Trump. May be a mistake but I heard him say he’d bring coal back.”
A mistake, maybe, because Yonts now suffers from black lung disease. “From there to here you can see a difference in my breathing that close.”
He voted for Trump to bring jobs back, but now fears Trump’s promise to kill Obamacare will also end his black lung benefits.
Yonts said, “When they eliminate the Obamacare they may just eliminate all the black lung program. It may all be gone. Don’t matter how many years you got.”
Three sentences in the affordable care act made it easier for victims of black lung to get monthly federal benefits if they worked 15 years or more in the mines;
And if they died the benefits automatically extended to their widows. Amburgey, a miner’s widow said, “I will be drawing 643 dollars and i think 42 cents.”
Reporter: “Once a month?”
Amburgey: “Once a month.”
Patty Amburgey just got her first payment. Her husband Crawford, after 32 years in the mines, died in 2007. “To see it, in somebody you lived with 45 years go from a vibrant man to a child is very hard.”
Getting the payment can also be difficult. Even with the law it took her 3 years. Now her black lung widow benefit, along with social security and a tiny $62 a month pension, keeps her financially afloat.
Reporter: “This money is important to you?”
Amburgey: “Absolutely, absolutely. It’s not a large amount but it’s enough to pay the bills.”
Keeping up with the bills here, for many, a lifetime struggle, so Trump’s full-throated promise of jobs, was a powerful message.
The unemployment rate in Lechter County, 10.3% more than twice the national average.
Stephen Sanders, director of Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center said, “This area has seen a terrific decline in the number of coal mining jobs in the last 5 years and those jobs tended to be high paying jobs.”
Stephen sanders represents miners applying for black lung benefits. As jobs have evaporated, he says, Obamacare benefits, more important than ever.
Sanders said, “President elect Trump promised people that he was going to restore mining jobs, i don’t think he thought about what the affordable care act might mean to miners who are applying for black lung benefits.”
Linda Adams’s husband, tony died three years ago. She’s now applying for black-lung widow benefits.
Reporter: “You supported Donald Trump in this election?”
Adams: “I did.”
Reporter: “But if Obamacare goes away?”
Adams: “if Obamacare goes away we’re gonna be in a world of depression.”
Adams now devotes her life to helping others apply for benefits she hopes will survive even if Obamacare is abolished. Her enormous expectations now squarely on “president” Trump.
Adams said, “If he doesn’t come across like he promised. He’s not going to be there next time. Not if I can help it.”
Trump’s future opposition already taking shape… if jobs don’t return and Obamacare benefits vanish.
Part of Trump’s first 100 day agenda includes repealing and replacing Obamacare.