Rep. Upton: Flint aid appears headed for inclusion in budget or spending bill
Washington — Federal aid for cities such as Flint with contaminated drinking water might now get tucked into a year-end government spending bill, lawmakers said this week.
Republican leaders in the U.S. House are looking at including the Flint-related package either in a short-term budget resolution that would fund the government through February or in omnibus spending legislation in December, Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, said Thursday.
“Bottom line is: Flint is going to get their money,” Upton told reporters at the U.S. Capitol.
In September, Republican leaders in both chambers pledged to pursue assistance for Flint during the lame-duck session of Congress following last week’s election. The agreement with Democrats was key to a deal to avert a shutdown of the federal government on Sept. 30.
“The speaker made a commitment. He’s going to keep his word. I followed up with him this week. I have every reason to believe it will happen at the right time,” Upton said, referring to House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
“The thought is that we’ll do a continuing (budget) resolution until the end of February or so. Our goal is to have it in that. If not, it will be in the omnibus. It will be in one of the two.”
Upton said it’s likely the funding would total $170 million — the amount the House approved for infrastructure improvements under the Water Resources Development Act, and not the $220 million package that passed the U.S. Senate earlier in September.
House Republicans previously said the water resources bill was the proper vehicle for infrastructure aid for communities like Flint that need to replace service lines damaged by lead-contaminated water.
Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, is fine with whichever method gets the funding to Flint — whether it’s the Water Resources Development Act or an appropriations bill.
“The people of Flint won’t know what bill it was. They’ll just know it made it there,” Kildee said.
“Everything I’ve seen indicates we might see some differences as to process, but he is still committed to getting this done,” the second-term lawmaker added. “Especially in this environment, when a person makes a promise, I’m willing to accept it on face value.”
In the Senate, Republican leaders had said they would pursue the $220 million package of Flint-related aid when the water resources legislation went to conference to work out the differences between House and Senate versions.
An aide to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said she continues to call for that $220 million bipartisan Flint agreement, which passed the Senate with 95 votes in September and would be paid for by stopping early a stimulus program for automakers.
“Nothing’s going to happen until we get back from Thanksgiving,” Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said Wednesday at the Capitol. “But it’s very clear we had very specific commitments made by Republican leadership, and we’re going to do everything we can to hold them to their word.”
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe reiterated to Politico this week that the Senate’s $220 million package would have to be included in the final water-resources legislation to pass the Senate. He was “optimistic there will be a deal.”
Upton expects that final legislation will include language strengthening requirements for the Environmental Protection Agency to notify the public when concentrations of lead in drinking water exceed safe levels.
Upton and Kildee sponsored a bill that passed the House earlier this year directing the EPA to notify a state government about contamination within 24 hours. If the state doesn’t notify the public within 24 hours, the EPA may do so.
Last month, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General said the EPA possessed the authority and information necessary to force corrective action and protect public health in Flint for seven months before it issued an emergency order over the city’s lead contamination crisis in January 2016.