Congress approves aid money for Flint water crisis

Posted at 3:56 PM, Dec 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-10 15:56:24-05

WASHINGTON — Aid money for Flint and other communities impacted by lead is on its way to President Obama’s desk after receiving backing from several Michigan lawmakers in Congress.

Congress approved the wide-ranging bill—the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act—to authorize water projects across the country, including $170 million to address lead in Flint’s drinking water.

Flint’s lead problem is traced back to a decision to use water from the corrosive Flint River for 18 months without treating it to prevent pipe corrosion. As a result, the water caused lead to leach from old pipes and into homes.

But since fall 2015, the city has been tapped into a regional water system that uses corrosion controls. Researchers say testing results have improved but many pipes still remain in need of repair.

U.S. Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow, Gary Peters and U.S. Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee, whose hometown is Flint, had been pushing for months to pass the measure which ultimately received bipartisan support.

According to a release issued by Congress, the agreement provides:

  • Access to $100 million in funding to help fix Flint’s drinking water infrastructure
  • Funding to activate at least $200 million in low-interest loans to upgrade water infrastructure in communities in Michigan and across the country
  • $50 million to address the health care needs of children who have been exposed to lead
  • Authority for the State of Michigan to forgive $20 million in past drinking water loans to Flint
  • A requirement that the EPA warn the public within 24 hours of high lead levels in drinking water if a state fails to do so

“This is a very long, hard-fought victory,” Stabenow said in a statement provided to media. “This agreement achieves what we set out to accomplish from the beginning—pass urgently needed funding to help repair and replace drinking water infrastructure in Flint and other communities, and address the health care needs of children and families.”

The state, through collaboration with the City of Flint, can access the $100 million in funds by submitting a plan to the EPA.  The state will also have the flexibility to use the funding to forgive Flint’s debts incurred prior to fiscal year 2017.

“Flint families have waited far too long for their government to provide real relief as they continue to recover from this ongoing water crisis,” Kildee said in a statement. “Flint residents are strong and resilient people, and I know that we can recover from this man-made crisis with the appropriate resources and investments in our community.”

The agreement also provides $17.5 million for the Department of Health and Human Services to create a national registry, which lawmakers say is designed to monitor children who’ve been exposed to lead. An additional $2.5 million is also being made available for an advisory committee to review how lead exposure can be reduced.

Under two other federal program, an additional $30 million will be available to address the short- and long-term effects of lead poisoning, specifically for pregnant women and new mothers, lawmakers said.

“Our tap water still is not safe to drink without using a filter, an unfathomable situation for any city in this great nation,” Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said in a statement provided to media. “This package will help us replace far more lead-tainted pipes… and provide resources to the thousands of Flint children who have suffered from ingesting lead-tainted water.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.