WILKES-BARRE – The Department of Labor said the Wilkes-Barre black lung office will close by Feb. 1.
According to Jesse Lawder, spokesman for the department's Office of Public Assistance, four employees and two contractors work in the city office in the Jewelcor Building on Wilkes-Barre Boulevard.
Lawder said the Wilkes-Barre office has been averaging only around 100 new cases per year, which accounts for a small percentage (1-2 percent) of total black lung claim filings.
This trend began a number of years ago and claims have continued to decline over that time, Lawder said.
Letters will be sent to claimants whose cases are currently handled out of the Wilkes-Barre office to inform them of upcoming changes. Lawder said the claims will be transferred to the Greensburg office.
We are also looking into ways to maintain a claimant contact presence on a weekly or monthly basis, he said.
Lawder said logistics are still being worked out, but it is expected the office will be closed no later than February.
The office opened in August 1978.
Through September 2012, the office received 123 claims and is managing 3,872 active cases.
He said the majority of claims this year related to prior cases -- there were only 19 new claims filed at the city office.
In a Times Leader story from 1998, between 1978 and 1980, more than 50 percent of all black-lung applicants received benefits.
Tougher eligibility requirements enacted in 1981 dropped that number to fewer than 10 percent.
The story said to be considered for black-lung benefits, applicants had to undergo a four-part physical exam provided by the U.S. Department of Labor.
It was noted that anthracite miners from the Northeast U.S. were more likely than miners from other parts of the country to contract black lung because of the chemical characteristics of the region's coal.
At the time of the story – 1998 -- Pennsylvanians received more than 25 percent of black-lung benefits nationwide.