Late last month, Deputy Labor Secretary Chris Lu announced that his department would seek a nearly $3 million funding increase for the Office of Administrative Law Judges to handle a growing backlog of black lung benefits claims.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) will send a letter to the Obama administration Thursday requesting an additional $10 million that would go towards hiring 20 new Administrative Law Judges.
Casey said the office needs to drastically increase its budget to keep up with the growing backlog of black lung claims.
“Even with the proposed $2.9 million increase that the administration proposed — that was actually a fairly significant increase from where they had been — but that $2.9 [million] will not allow them to keep pace,” he said. “It’s a flood of cases and just too few judges.”
And David Wilson is caught in the flood.
He spent 33 years underground mining Pennsylvania coal and retired in 2011, but months afterwards, Wilson could only breathe with the assistance of an oxygen tank.
“There’s guys dying every day because they can’t breathe,” Wilson said. “And not being able to breathe, that’s a hell of a feeling. I know. I’ve been there.”
Wilson received a lung transplant in 2012, but has spent the last three years waiting to get his black lung benefits from the coal industry.
“They’d rather see you dead so they don’t have to pay you,” Wilson said. “They’ll pay the doctors, they pay the lawyers and it just drags it on out.”
The average claimant waits about a year to have their case assigned to an administrative law judge and another 90 to 120 days for the case to be heard, according to Casey.
There were 5,220 black lung benefits cases filed in fiscal year 2005. Over the past nine years, that number has risen to 8,320 — a roughly 60 percent increase.
There are currently more than 14,000 backlogged black lung claims in the U.S.