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Democrats Seek $400 Million for Flint Repairs

Peters is hoping for bipartisan support to fix Flint's water system. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Democrats are seeking as much as $400 million in emergency federal money to fix or replace the corroded pipes polluting the water in Flint, Mich., part of a proposed amendment to the bipartisan energy bill being considered in the Senate.  

As drafted, the amendment would require the state of Michigan to match the federal contribution, dollar for dollar, and would give the state greater flexibility to forgive loans for water infrastructure. It would also call for spending $200 million in federal money for a center that would support the children and adults exposed to lead in the tainted water.  

“This legislation puts the attention and focus where it needs to be -- helping the children and families of Flint,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. She said Democratic and Republican senators, as well as the president and Cabinet secretaries, have expressed "willingness to work with us on ways to address this horrible crisis.”  

Joining Stabenow and fellow Michigan Democrat Gary Peters at an afternoon news conference, Sen. Charles E. Schumer said his Michigan colleagues are looking for bipartisan support. "They don't want any political victory. They need the help," said Schumer, D-N.Y..  

The Michigan senators have taken a multi-pronged approach to addressing the crisis. On Monday, they joined Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., to request that Health and Human Services provide expanded Head Start services to children in Flint. The federal emergency money would go toward fixing the infrastructure, which could cost as much as $767 million to replace. The proposed Center of Excellence on Lead Exposure  would help meet the needs of children who face adverse health consequences and learning disabilities from consuming lead.  

On Wednesday, Peters provided an update on the crisis to Democrats at their weekly caucus lunch. The three Michigan lawmakers on Wednesday announced they would propose legislation clarifying that the Environmental Protection Agency could move ahead with notifying the public about risks of lead in drinking water even without state and local involvement. That provision would be included in the proposed amendment to the energy bill, as well.  

"It is clear the state of Michigan did not fulfill their responsibility to prevent lead from leaching into Flint’s drinking water system or to make the public aware of the danger in their drinking water," Peters said in a statement announcing that piece. "There are a number of steps that need to be taken to both mitigate the long-term effects of lead exposure on Flint residents and ensure this type of situation never happens again, and this legislation will make it clear the EPA can take action if a state is dragging their feet and endangering the health of its residents."  

Michigan's GOP Gov. Rick Snyder called for a federal state of emergency on Jan. 5, and President Barack Obama authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to spend up to $5 million providing water, filters and other items. The Michigan House and Senate on Thursday approved $28 million in supplemental funding for Flint .  

The bulk of the money would pay for emergency bottled water and filtering supplies, local health inspections, home lead abatement and blood testing. The state is asking the federal government to expand Medicaid health care eligibility to cover all Flint-area residents up to 21 years of age and provide Medicaid match dollars for lead abatement activities, according to The Detroit News.  

The city of Flint switched its water supply in 2014, drawing water from the Flint River instead of Lake Huron in an effort to save money. But the state did not require anti-corrosion chemicals to be added to the new water supply, and the Flint River contains significantly higher levels of chloride, a chemical that is corrosive to metal, than the Lake Huron water the city had been using for decades.  

The result: Iron, rust and toxic levels of lead leached into residents’ water from the aging supply pipes connected to people’s homes. Residents reportedly complained of rashes and strange odors, but officials said the water was safe to drink until elevated levels of lead were found in city children’s blood last year.  

Stephanie Akin contributed to this report. Contact Lesniewski at niels@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter @nielslesniewski.

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