Michigan Senate panel bumps aid for health assessments in $28M Flint aid package
Lansing — The state would pay for “early-on” assessments of all Flint children age 0-3 under a revised $28 million supplemental spending proposal that could reach the governor’s desk by the end of the week.
The Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a $28 million supplemental spending bill to address the Flint water contamination crisis, making a series of changes to the version advanced last week by the House.
Most notably, the revised bill shifts close to $4 million that had been earmarked for bottled water purchases toward early-on assessments, nutrition programs and nursing for pregnant women or those with young children.
“We put enough funding in there for an assessment for every child,” said Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., the East Lansing Democrat who proposed a successful amendment to the bill guaranteeing the coverage. He estimated that 4,500 kids age 0-3 may have been exposed to lead-contaminated water in Flint.
“To me, that’s the most important thing we can do,” he said. “We’ll never know which of those kids were actually poisoned with lead, but we do know it has a significant neurological effect.”
Early-on testing will help identify kids who may have been affected, Hertel said, and ensure a case worker will develop a plan for long-term care, if required.
“Generosity from people all over the country” reduced the need for bottled water funding, said Senate Appropriations Chairman Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, referencing donations from “TV celebrities and rock stars, comedians and everyone else.”
Hildenbrand also noted the state is buying bottled water at a reduced rate from the Federal Emergency Management Agency following the president’s emergency declaration in Flint.
The Senate supplemental is “an improvement” over the House version, said Denise Sloan of the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who noted the early-on assessment funding and extra money for nutrition, which can mitigate the effects of lead exposure.
As many as 8,000 or 9,000 children up to 6 years old may have been exposed to lead through contaminated drinking water, she said, stressing that young children are at great risk because of their susceptibility to developmental delays.
“They don’t need to wait until the next budget year,” Sloan said.
The supplemental funding bill, approved by the House last week in an earlier form, was first requested by Gov. Rick Snyder as part of his 2016 State of the State address. It will not be his last request for Flint, he told legislators.
The revised bill still includes $4.6 million for the purchase of water, filters and replacement cartridges through the Department of Health and Human Services, which would receive another $10.9 million to treat children with high lead levels, conduct field operations, fund local centers and more.
The health department would also temporarily expand the Women, Infants and Children special food assistance program by raising the age cap to cover Flint children through age 10, instead of 5.
Another $3 million would go to the Department of Environmental Quality to help Flint’s water fund stay solvent despite unpaid bills from residents unhappy with what’s coming through their taps.
The full Senate could vote on the funding bill as early as Thursday.