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Michigan lawmakers support Flint aid bill in Congress

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The entire Michigan congressional delegation is supporting a new U.S. House bill that aims to avoid crises like the lead contamination of drinking water in Flint.

Reps. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, and Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, have introduced the Safe Drinking Water Act Improved Compliance Awareness Act to enhance requirements for the Environmental Protection Agency to notify the public when concentrations of lead in drinking water exceed safe levels.

The bill would direct the EPA to notify the state of the contamination within 24 hours. If the state doesn’t take action to notify the public within 24 hours, then the EPA may do so.

The legislation also requires the EPA to create a strategic plan for handling and improving information sharing between water utilities, states, federal environmental officials and affected consumers.

The legislation is similar to a bill introduced last week by U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, and Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, except the senators’ bill sets a period of 15 days before the EPA should notify the public of the concentrations of lead in a public water system.

“What happened in Flint is simply unacceptable at all levels,” said Upton, who chairs the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. “Our bipartisan legislation will ensure consumers are not kept in the dark and makes certain the EPA fulfills their fundamental duty to warn the public of high lead levels.”

Kildee said the public should be immediately informed when high lead levels exist in drinking water. “This is the latest action I’m taking in Congress to promote accountability and help Flint recover from this terrible man-made tragedy,” he said in a statement.

Kildee has another new bill in the House that calls for short- and long-term investments in Flint, while requiring matching funds from the Michigan Legislature.

The legislation would provide $385 million in direct grants for repair or replacement of public and private lead service lines, and would allow Michigan to forgive $21 million in existing water infrastructure loans owed by the city of Flint.

Another provision would provide $125 million through the Department of Health and Human Services for Head Start and Early Start education for Flint children exposed to lead, as well as $5 million for health centers at all Flint schools and $5 million for mental health services for Flint families and children affected by lead exposure.

Through the Department of Education, the bill calls for $90 million for initiatives such as reduced class sizes, additional personnel, special education services and citywide after-school programs for Flint children exposed to lead.

The legislation would permit the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program to children up to age 10 in areas where a federal state of emergency has been declared.

The USDA last week had rejected Michigan's request to increase WIC access for Flint children ages 5 to 10 to the federal nutritional program for low-income women and children.

Kildee’s legislation would also provide $5 million to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for lead-prevention programs; $5 million to the U.S. Department of Justice for juvenile delinquency prevention programs; and $45 million to the Department of Labor for initiatives including workforce training, economic development assistance programs and minority business development programs.

Finally, the bill would authorize $100 million for a health monitoring program established within a new Center for Excellence on Lead Exposure that would create a health registry to monitor and track Flint families and children exposed to lead; research behavioral and health impacts of exposure, including mitigation efforts; and report twice a year to the Flint community on its findings.

mburke@detroitnews.com

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