House budget panel rejects $458M Flint-inspired request

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The House Budget Committee on Wednesday defeated a Flint-inspired amendment to the proposed Republican budget for $457.5 million in emergency aid targeted at communities with lead-contaminated public drinking water such as Flint.

The Republican-controlled committee rejected the proposal 22-14 along party lines.

“Government at all levels has a responsibility to fix this problem so the people of Flint can have normal lives once again,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, who sponsored the amendment.

“We need to ensure this never happens in another city in America ever again, but we also have a moral obligation to provide much-needed aid to the people of Flint today.”

The amendment would have allocated $170 million for water infrastructure projects and subsidized loans and grants for any state that receives an emergency declaration due to a public health threat from lead exposure.

Michigan and other states with emergency declarations caused by drinking water contaminants would have been be permitted to use their 2016 Drinking Water State Revolving Fund allotment to forgive outstanding debt on water-infrastructure loans. The proposal also would lift the 20-percent cap on the portion of a state’s allotment that may be used for forgiveness of principal.

U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, opposed the amendment, saying it was “not the right way to go” and highlighting the $70 million the Michigan Legislature already has funneled to aid Flint.

“I know very clearly that families are suffering there through no fault of their own. State government has failed. Federal government has failed,” said Moolenaar, who visited Flint last weekend.

“Currently, the Senate is working on a bipartisan package to address the issues in Flint with lead in the drinking water. I believe it’s important for us to be part of the solution and consider that package if it arrives here in the House.”

Moolenaar also criticized Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton for “politicizing” the Flint crisis.

Dingell’s provision would have designated money for health and education services including $12.5 million in Community Development Block Grants, $225 million for expanded early childhood and other educational services, and $40 million to create a registry to monitor the health of residents in communities impacted by lead contamination.

Another $10 million would have been set aside for grants to states to connect pregnant women and new mothers with healthcare and childhood development resources.

All the funds would have had to be matched by the State of Michigan or other states seeking assistance.

Dingell said the Republican budget has no proposals for aid that would benefit Flint. She described an ill 6-year-old girl she met in Flint and whose mother said “doesn’t know where to go to get the help she needs.”

“I urge my colleagues to set politics aside for a moment and come together to do the right thing for this community,” Dingell said.

Moolenaar said he inserted into the budget resolution language recognizing the “negative impact” of the Flint drinking water crisis and criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency for its “failure of leadership” in its response to Flint.

The proposed resolution does not appropriate money and does not become law. Moolenaar said it reads in part: “Congress has a moral obligation to find positive solutions for all of the people impacted by this situation. This budget calls for a bipartisan way forward to address the infrastructure needs in the Flint area, and to ensure the health and safety of all the children, families and citizens impacted by this crisis.”

In response, Dingell said the people of Flint need hope and money to recover. “Give them something real. Not just words,” she said.

Co-sponsors of the amendment included Democratic Reps. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, John Yarmuth of Kentucky, Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, Kathy Castor of Florida, Jim McDermott of Washington, Barbara Lee of California, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts.

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