$220M Flint aid package clears U.S. Senate panel

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Legislation containing a $220 million Flint-inspired aid package being pushed by Michigan lawmakers in Congress cleared a key U.S. Senate committee Thursday, setting up a potential floor vote.

The measure, promoted by Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township, includes $100 million for subsidized loans for water infrastructure improvements. But it only applies to 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 solely 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.

In a 19-1 vote, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the $9.4 billion Water Resources Development Act that includes the Flint aid package.

About $3.3 billion is included for 25 Army Corps of Engineer harbor and port projects as well as money for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. But approval of that funding still needs to go through the appropriations process.

By contrast, the Flint-inspired aid is 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.

The broad water infrastructure bill was introduced by committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, and Barbara Boxer, D-California, who worked with Stabenow and Peters to include the Flint aid package in the measure after a prior effort to attach the funding to an energy bill was rebuffed by Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

Stabenow and Peters said the committee approval of the plan to attach the Flint aid package to the water resources bill brings the funding for the beleaguered city once step closer to fruition. The prospects for passage weren’t immediately clear on Thursday.

“Today, thanks to support from Republicans and Democrats, we are another step closer to passing urgently-needed help for families in Flint and other communities across the country,” Stabenow said in a statement. “I urge Senator McConnell to continue this spirit of bipartisanship by bringing this legislation to the Senate floor for a vote as soon as possible.”

“I’m pleased that legislation providing much-needed assistance for the City of Flint moved forward in the Senate today. The people of Flint are still without access to clean, safe water, and many are still forced to rely on bottled water for cooking, bathing and drinking,” Peters added. “Sen. Stabenow and I will be working with our colleagues to move this bipartisan, fully-paid for legislation through the full Senate so that we can help the people of Flint begin to recover from this catastrophe.”

U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, put a hold on the Flint-inspired aid amendment to the energy bill. Stabenow and Peters said they tried to negotiate with Lee to no avail. The energy bill was approved last week without the Flint provisions.

“Every time we thought we had an agreement with Sen. Lee, he changed the goal post,” Stabenow said in an April 15th telephone interview with The Detroit News. “We’re through trying with him because it’s clear he does not want to get us this assistance for the people of Flint.”

Inhofe, who helped negotiate the original deal with Stabenow and Peters, agreed to include the Flint provisions in a broader bill that finances Army Corps projects in 17 states — none in Michigan — and revitalizing ecosystems in the Florida Everglades and the Great Lakes.

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.


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Twitter: @Keith_Laing