Senate bill seeks to revive $220M in Flint-inspired aid

Keith Laing Detroit News Washington Bureau

A leading Republican and Democrat have introduced a bill that seems designed in part to revive chances of passing a $220 million Flint-inspired aid package in the Senate.

U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, and Barbara Boxer, D-California, introduced the Water Resources Development Act that includes key parts of the aid package negotiated by Michigan’s Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Hills with some Republican leaders. The legislation also approves funding for port and harbor improvements, ecosystem revivals and drought aid.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Inhofe, is scheduled to consider the legislation at a Thursday meeting. Boxer is the panel’s ranking Democrat.

The bill includes $100 million for subsidized loans for water infrastructure improvements for any state that receives a federal emergency declaration due to a public health threat from lead or other contaminants in a public drinking water supply system — which only applies to Flint but could eventually apply to others.

Another $70 million would be applied toward financing costs for up to $700 million in secured loans for water infrastructure across the country. About $50 million would be directed toward national health programs for efforts such as health registry and more funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Fund.

“The people of Flint — many of whom are still using bottled water to drink, cook and bathe — are in dire need of assistance, and I look forward to helping move this legislation forward in the Senate,” Peters said in a Tuesday statement.

Stabenow vowed to back this new effort and not give up “until this gets done.”

“I am pleased we have successfully found a new path forward to get urgently-needed help for families in Flint and other communities across the country with serious lead and water issues,” she said in a Tuesday statement. “I want to thank Chairman Inhofe and Ranking Member Boxer for continuing to work with us to include help for Flint in the Water Resources Development Act.”

The Flint-inspired package originally stalled as an amendment to the energy bill in the Senate. U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, put a hold on the legislation. Stabenow and Peters were unable to negotiate a compromise with Lee, and the energy bill was approved last week without the Flint provisions.

“What’s really happening here is that Washington politicians are using the crisis in Flint as an excuse to funnel taxpayer money to their own home states,” Lee argued in an early March statement.

Stabenow and Peters argued the Flint aid was paid for by rescinding the credit subsidy for the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Program for automakers for loans issued after Oct. 1, 2020 — a $250 million savings.

Inhofe, who helped negotiate the original deal with Stabenow and Peters, agreed to include the Flint provisions in a broader bill that finances 25 Army Corps of Engineers port and harbor projects in 17 states — none in Michigan — and revitalizing ecosystems in the Florida Everglades and the Great Lakes. It also includes drought aid.

“The bill also responds to the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, by providing emergency assistance to Flint and other similar communities across the country facing drinking water contamination,” according to a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee statement.

The legislation includes a provision requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to notify the public about unsafe levels of lead found in a community’s drinking water no later than 15 days after being alerted. The Republican-controlled House passed a bill last month requiring the EPA to issue an alert within 24 hours if a community does not do so.

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, pressed the Senate to act quickly on the Flint aid package now that it is included in the water resources bill.

“There is an ongoing emergency in my hometown of Flint, Michigan that demands a response from Congress. After two years, Flint — a city of 100,000 people — still does not have access to safe water,” he said in a statement released after the Senate’s announcement on Tuesday.

“As a country, we have always come together to help those in need,” Kildee continued. “Congress has acted countless times to provide aid to other Americans in crisis — they must also act now to help Flint families.”