Mich. delegation to state: Act quick using Flint aid

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The members of Congress from Michigan who pushed millions in emergency aid for Flint through Congress this week are calling on the state to make haste in using that money to fix Flint’s pipes —and to pitch in more state assistance.

“Now, we switch gears from finding funds for this problem to making sure these funds are spent as quickly as possible and efficiently as possible, and with full accountability to make sure that the infrastructure is in place to deliver that clean water,” Sen. Gary Peters told reporters on a call.

Early Saturday, the Senate approved legislation containing a $170 million package to help Flint and other communities affected by lead or other contaminants in their drinking water. The U.S. House had OK’d the package on Thursday.

Flint would receive $100 million in grants to replace lead service pipes, but state officials must first submit a plan of action to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval.

The legislation approved Saturday — which President Barack Obama is expected to sign — gives Michigan the legal authority to forgive $20 million that Flint owes to the state for outstanding loans for water infrastructure.

The bills also provide $20 million in funds to activate up to $200 million in such in low-interest loans to upgrade water infrastructure in communities in Michigan and across the country. Flint, working with the state, could also apply for that aid.

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, said he and Michigan’s delegation would continue to work to secure more resources for Flint, but “the next step clearly falls to the State of Michigan.”

“They have been silent for many, many months. I don’t believe they can take the position that they’ve sort of checked the box and they’re done. Flint needs a lot more help,” Kildee said.

“The State of Michigan is almost entirely responsible for what happened and they need to step up.”

Gov. Rick Snyder’s office said Saturday it would review the legislation as passed, noting the many revisions it underwent during the months it took for Congress to reach an agreement.

“I appreciate the willingness of our federal partners to invest in Flint’s full recovery. While current needs are being addressed in Flint with more than $234 million in state funding, this additional federal money will help enhance and expand those efforts,” Snyder said in a statement.

“I applaud the action Congress took to finally get this funding over the finish line for the people of Flint.”

Efforts by the Michigan delegation to secure federal infrastructure aid for Flint began in January but faced myriad hurdles. In February, Senate Democrats held up a bipartisan energy bill over demands for emergency aid for Flint.

“We had ups and downs. Senators blocking us. Multiple negotiations, on and off,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing.

“Finally, our colleagues leading the water resources bill, Senators (Jim) Inhofe and (Barbara) Boxer, came forward and worked with us tirelessly to put together a package. We had negotiations up til the very end.”

She noted the House made passage even more challenging by dividing the Flint-related aid into two bills – the water resources bill and a must-pass budget resolution that passed late the Senate late Friday night.

The package includes $50 million to help with the health care needs of children, pregnant mothers and babies exposed to lead, including a health registry, and more funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Fund.

Stabenow said that public health provision faced opposition from the office of House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, despite its passing the Republican-controlled Senate in September. “We fought very hard and wouldn’t take a nickel less than what had passed the Senate,” Stabenow said.

Just after the legislation passed around 1 a.m. Saturday, Stabenow and Peters called Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who exposed the gravity of the city’s water crisis after finding high lead levels in the blood of Flint children.

Hanna-Attisha, director of pediatric residency at Hurley Children's Hospital in Flint, has called for public funding to back health initiatives, fix water lines and further deal with the fallout from the lead-contamination crisis.

In a statement, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver thanked Stabenow, Peters and Kildee for their “relentless efforts” to get Flint’s 100,000 residents help.

“Our tap water still is not safe to drink without using a filter, an unfathomable situation for any city in this great nation,” she said.

“Although we have waited far longer for this help than expected, we are grateful to the Senate and House for providing the assistance that will help Flint residents deal with this unprecedented health crisis and gain a brighter future.”

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