FRANKFORT – Senate Democratic Floor Leader Ray S. Jones II, D-Pikeville, filed legislation to stimulate eastern Kentucky’s economy by helping unemployed coal miners find jobs, while helping low income families reduce their power bills.
“Kentucky has lost thousands of coal jobs,” said Jones, the grandson of a coal miner. “Eastern Kentucky is the hardest hit region of the state. Every day in my hometown, I see the hardships created by these job losses. My region is hurting – families are leaving, businesses are suffering and schools are in crisis.”
Senator Johnny Ray Turner, D-Prestonsburg, the primary co-sponsor of the bill, said that more than 6,000 jobs in the coal industry were lost in 2015 alone.
“Since 2011, more than half of all Kentucky coal jobs have been eliminated and many of those layoffs are in eastern Kentucky,” he said. Adding support to his colleague’s statement, Turner added, “Many of us have family, friends and neighbors who once had good jobs with the coal industry, but are now unemployed and, unfortunately, do not have the skills to compete for the few jobs that are available. This is where we can help them.”
Senate Bill 303 proposes to help unemployed coal miners by making available the education and job retraining needed to reenter the workforce.
“The folks who lost their jobs because of the downturn in the coal industry do not want the government to take care of them,” said Jones. “They just want to be able to find work that will allow them to support their families.”
The Education and Workforce Development Cabinet could capitalize on state and federal workforce development funds to develop and implement the newly developed jobs programs. Among the funding sources is the Reclaim Act of 2016, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, which is to provide $1 billion in funding to assist coal communities hit the hardest by the downturn of the coal industry through economic development and job creation.
SB 303 also gives preference points to a coal miner’s score for classified employment positions within state government to help miners reenter the workforce.
Additionally, SB 303 provides specialized training in energy auditing and energy efficiency contracting certification for displaced coal miners through Kentucky Community Technical College System (KCTCS). That training would then be utilized in making home energy-efficiency improvements.
SB 303 diverts 1% of the coal severance tax earmarked for the General Fund to finance the specialized energy job training and the subsidies and low-interest loans for home energy-efficiency improvements.
“This would allow us to offer new job opportunities to replace lost coal mining jobs, while providing a boost to the housing construction market,” said Jones. “This measure would assist low-income households, which often receive low-income heating assistance, to better control their energy usage and costs. It is a long term solution for both of these problems.”
“The people who can least afford higher energy costs are the ones paying them,” he explained. “The low-income and very low-income households are the homes with the poorest energy efficiency. Energy-efficiency improvements will help those on fixed incomes to spend less on utility bills.”
The decline in coal as an energy source over the past few years has resulted in skyrocketing power bills. Jones said SB 303 would help thousands of families – those hit the hardest by the downturn in the coal industry — with reductions to their power bills.
“It is time for us to get the economic engine of eastern Kentucky working again by giving them the tools to help themselves,” said Jones. “This legislation is a step in the right direction.”