Mich. gets federal OK to spend $119M on lead abatement

David Eggert
Associated Press

Lansing — Michigan won federal approval Monday to spend roughly $119 million over five years to remove lead hazards from the homes of low-income residents in Flint and other communities, the second time the state has received a waiver to spend such additional money to respond to the city’s tainted water crisis.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services authorized an amendment to Michigan’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. The state will spend $333,000 this fiscal year to obtain a nearly $23.5 million federal match.

Houses, apartments and other residential structures will be eligible for expanded lead abatement services if there is at least one resident under age 19 who qualifies for Medicaid or CHIP or a pregnant woman living there. Eligible properties in Flint, where the water supply was contaminated with toxic lead, will receive priority status. But the state, which has been deemed primarily responsible for the disaster, also will identify other high-risk municipalities.

The decision came the same day that Flint Mayor Karen Weaver announced the renewal of an emergency declaration she first ordered 11 months ago. Federal and state emergency declarations expired in August, though the governments have continued working to restore the drinking water system in the city of nearly 100,000 people.

“While the quality of our water in Flint is gradually improving, health officials still can’t say the water is safe for people to use without a filter or when it will be, and if that isn’t an emergency I don’t know what is,” Weaver said.

The lead abatement funding will be used to permanently eliminate or enclose lead-based paint and lead dust, replace fixtures, test samples, and remove or cover lead hazards in the soil. In Flint, the program also will include the replacement of exterior lead service lines that connect water mains to homes.

In a statement issued while he was on a trade trip in China, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder called the waiver approval “great news.” Nick Lyon, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, thanked the Obama administration for its “quick review, decision, and support of this important preventive health program.”

The lead official directing the federal government’s response in Flint, Dr. Nicole Lurie of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said the move is “unprecedented.”

“Removing lead in homes, including from pipes in homes, can greatly decrease the risk of future lead exposure and improve children’s health,” she said.

The action came more than eight months after the Obama administration approved another waiver to extend Medicaid eligibility to 15,000 residents on Flint’s water system.

It was not known how many residences will be made safer with the extra spending.

“Now that we’ve secured approval, we’ll be assessing operational needs and capacity,” state spokeswoman Jennifer Eisner said.

She said the state currently has $2.9 million in funds for lead abatement, with half dedicated solely to Flint.

Michigan’s amendment, which takes effect Jan. 1, will last for five years or until all homes included in the scope are abated for lead.