U.S. Senate approves $9.4B bill containing Flint aid

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation Thursday that would provide emergency funding to help fix the drinking water infrastructure in Flint and other communities with contaminated systems.

The Senate’s vote was 95-3 for the $9.4 billion water projects bill containing the provisions that could benefit Flint.

“After months of working intensely with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to overcome opposition, I am extremely pleased that the Senate has finally passed urgently needed help for families in Flint,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, who worked to include the Flint-inspired provisions.

“Today’s passage is an important reminder to the nation that the crisis in Flint is far from over.”

The Water Resources Development Act bill includes $100 million for subsidized loans for water infrastructure improvements through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund for any state with a federal emergency declaration due to a public health threat from lead or other contaminants in the public drinking water supply.

Flint, which has struggled for at least a year with lead-contaminated water, is the only community that now fits the definition; however, other communities could qualify in the coming months.

“It will still fall short of what it’s been estimated it will cost to fix the system, and that’s where the state has to step up,” Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, told reporters on a call.

The Snyder administration welcomed the Senate’s action.

“These potential federal funds would provide an opportunity to support additional infrastructure needs in Flint,” said Ari Adler, spokesman for Gov. Rick Snyder.

The Snyder administration said it has worked with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, since January on the Flint-inspired provisions. Snyder said he also had spoken to Inhofe about the “remaining needs in Flint.”

“I greatly appreciate the Senate’s action today in approving funding for Flint’s water infrastructure to complement the state’s efforts,” Snyder said in a statement. “... I hope the House will act quickly in taking up this legislation.”

Inhofe, who sponsored the bill, noted some House members say they won't support the bill in the House because the House version doesn't have the Flint provisions. The Oklahoma Republican pledged to address the issue when members from both chambers meet to reconcile the differences in the legislation.

“I promise to address this in conference. I’ve been standing with my colleagues in Michigan from the beginning on our fiscally responsible solution to help the Flint community and will continue to do so as we enter conference,” Inhofe said on the Senate floor.

“Let me be clear, It would be a short-sighted mistake for those that are trying to help the people of Flint to prevent the quick movement of WRDA in the House so that we can conference immediately.”

Michigan’s senior Republican, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph, pledged he would work to get aid to Flint.

“Having just been in Flint with Rep. (Dan) Kildee, I saw first-hand all the work that needs to be done,” Upton said in a statement. “I will continue to work with the Michigan delegation, and all my colleagues, as we work together to provide much-needed assistance.”

The package also contains $70 million to finance costs for up to $1 billion in secured loans for water infrastructure through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act Fund at the Environmental Protection Agency.

About $17.5 million would be directed toward a lead-exposure registry to monitor the effects on children and $2.5 million for an advisory committee to review ways to reduce lead exposure.

Another $30 million is set aside for three federal children's health programs that fund efforts to address the effects of lead poisoning, including assistance to pregnant women and new mothers and public education campaigns.

The legislation would also permit Michigan the flexibility to use funds from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to forgive roughly $20 million in debts that Flint owes for prior infrastructure loans.

Stabenow and Peters said they hope the measure’s momentum coming out of the Senate will raise the likelihood of its getting a vote in the House, where the Flint-inspired aid is not part of the House version of the water resources legislation.

Michigan members hope it would be included when members from both chambers meet to reconcile the bills, or that it would be included in another piece of House legislation.

“We want to get this done before Congress breaks before the election,” Stabenow told reporters. “Every single day counts for the people of Flint.”


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