Snyder: ‘Stand up’ for Senate plan on Flint funding

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Friday urged continued pressure on Congress to pass a Senate-approved $220 million aid plan inspired by the Flint water contamination crisis.

The House last week approved a separate water resources measure that would authorize $170 million in spending on infrastructure in communities like Flint, and the two chambers will attempt to settle on a final plan in conference committee by the end of the year.

“It’s very important that we all stand up and encourage support for the Senate version of this particular report,” Snyder said, “because that’s the one that would actually provide financial resources. The House version was an authorizing, not appropriating.”

Snyder, speaking with state, county and city officials at a Flint Water Interagency Coordinating Committee meeting, said he made multiple calls to members of Congress last week and urged colleagues to do the same.

Approval of the House version of the aid package was “positive progress,” the governor said, “but that’s something we should continue to work on.”

The congressional conference committee is not expected to consider the Flint-related funding plans until after the Nov. 8 general election.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, this week praised Michigan lawmakers from both parties for their work on the issue and said he is “confident” the chambers will agree to a final version this year. But he declined to discuss negotiations.

“The point is, the House passed the bill, and the Senate passed a bill,” Ryan said Monday in Traverse City. “They’re very similar, and that is the right way to address a very legitimate problem, which is Flint.”

The Senate plan, promoted by Democratic U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township, includes $100 million for subsidized loans to fund water infrastructure improvements, such as pipe replacement or plant upgrades.

The funding would be available in areas that have received a federal emergency declaration due to a public health threat from lead or other contaminants in public drinking water, which would currently only apply to Flint.

The measure would provide additional funding for public health, including the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Fund.

“The Senate version is a lot better,” said Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician at Hurley Medical Center who first highlighted elevated lead levels in the blood of Flint children. “We need to continue to advocate for that urgently, and even more.”

Michigan legislators have so far approved more than $234 million in Flint-related aid, including $27 million to help the city replace lead pipes, but Congress has yet to approve any targeted funds. The city also recently applied Drinking Water Revolving Loan funds.

As of Monday, Flint had replaced lead-tainted service lines at 163 homes and said it was on pace to top 200 homes by the end of the week. It’s estimated there are more than 8,000 lead pipes in the city.

Staff writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.