Congress has approved aid for the city of Flint, Michigan, which has been grappling with a water contamination crisis since late 2014.
Michigan lawmakers have been working for nearly a year to secure funds to replace water pipes that poisoned the city’s water with lead.
Just before 1 a.m. Saturday morning, the Senate passed a water infrastructure bill that authorized funding for Flint, and earlier in the night, approved the funds in a stopgap spending bill.
At 1:15 a.m., Michigan Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters phoned the Michigan doctor who first revealed the elevated blood lead levels in children in Flint to tell her that federal aid was finally coming.
The aid package totaled around $170 million. One hundred million can be directed to help replace pipes, which amounts to about half of the funds needed to replace thousands of pipelines. Twenty million can be used to activate additional loans to fix water infrastructure, and $50 million will be directed at public health programs relating to children with lead poisoning.
Lawmakers started pushing for aid in January and fought to force Congress to act. The push for aid upended an energy policy bill and threatened a government shutdown in September.
“This has been a very long road,” Stabenow said on a Saturday morning press call. “Our fight is nothing compared to what the people of Flint have been going through.”
Rep. Dan Kildee, a Democrat who represents Flint, said the city has felt the cost of federal inaction. Along with contaminated water, the city has also been hit economically with businesses struggling to stay open and people leaving the area.
“Every day that has passed since this crisis has become known has cost the residents of the city of Flint,” Kildee said.
“I think the urgency that we all felt a year or so ago needs to continue and hopefully, the fact that Congress is willing to act, even now, puts pressure on other folks,” he said.
Kildee, Stabenow and Peters called on the state government to take action.
“It is clear this is a problem created by state government,” Peters said, adding that the state government needs to step up and provide additional resources.
To access the funds, the state must provide a detailed plan, which will be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. The Department of Health and Human Services will also award the grants relating to public health.
Stabenow said the state government should have already been working on a plan, and the lawmakers would work to ensure its approval as soon as it is submitted.
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