After much anticipation, the U.S. Senate on Saturday passed a critical piece of legislation providing $170 million in much-needed federal aid to Flint, Michigan, and other cities in the country affected by lead contamination.
According to a Congressional press release provided to Atlanta Black Star, the bipartisan agreement, known as the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act will provide access to $100 million in funding to help repair Flint’s drinking water system; $20 million to activate $200 million in low-interest loans to enhance water infrastructure in communities in Michigan and across the country; and $50 million to address the health care needs of children affected by lead exposure.
Moreover, the WIIN Act would give the state of Michigan authority to forgive $20 million in past drinking water loans to Flint and would require that the EPA warn the public within 24 hours of increased lead levels in drinking water if a state fails to do so first.
“This is a very long, hard-fought victory,” Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow said in a statement. “This agreement achieves what we set out to accomplish from the beginning — pass urgently needed funding to help repair and replace drinking water infrastructure in Flint and other communities, and address the health care needs of children and families.”
“The people of Flint have waited far too long throughout this terrible crisis for their water system to be fixed,” Stabenow added. “It is also past time for the state of Michigan to do everything in its power to meet its responsibilities to help the city recover from the water crisis.”
The new legislation, which passed the Senate 78-21, closely mirrors a similar bill approved back in September that would provide $220 million in federal funding to repair Flint’s lead-stricken drinking water infrastructure. The bill also contained aid to implement special programs aimed at helping communities reduce lead in drinking water systems and another $100 million to authorize lead testing at schools and child care facilities, according to Atlanta Black Star.
The bipartisan bill, passed in the wee hours of Saturday morning, a press secretary told ABS, would specifically provide $30 million to two different federal programs aimed at funding efforts to address the short- and long-term effects of lead poisoning, the press release stated. In addition, the legislation would provide help to pregnant women and new mothers and educate them on the dangers of lead exposure.
It’s been over two years since Michigan officials decided to switch its water supply from Lake Huron to the highly polluted Flint River, causing lead from old water pipes to leach into Flint’s water system. To this day, city residents are still forced to rely on home water filters and bottled water for everyday tasks like cooking, cleaning and bathing.
Sen. Gary Peters noted that while the responsibility of giving long-term support to affected families in Flint primarily lies with the state of Michigan, city residents have waited far too long for federal assistance.
“For nearly a year, Senator Stabenow, Congressman [Dan] Kildee and I have fought to secure emergency assistance while many families in Flint are still living on bottled water and dealing with the negative health effects of this tragedy,” said Peters, who also helped champion the WIIN Act. “I am pleased that Congress has finally followed through on the promise made to Flint residents and approved funding to help the city of Flint replace its lead-tainted pipes.”
In addition to funding for Flint, the bill also contained a last-minute provision providing drought relief in California. Earlier this month, environmentalists expressed concern that the added measure would jeopardize funding for lead-stricken Flint.
According to The Detroit News, California Sen. Barbara Boxer vehemently opposed the bill — a bill she helped write — calling it “ridiculous.”
“You take a beautiful bill like [the Water Development Resources Act] … and then you put a pile of dirt on top of it … and then you stick a little Maraschino cherry on top, which is Flint and a couple of other good things,” Boxer said on the Senate floor Friday before the time-sensitive water bill was passed. “And then you say, ‘OK, eat the dirt.'”
Despite that small bump in the road, passage of the WIIN Act early Saturday gave Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and other supporters of repairing the city’s water crisis good reason to celebrate.
“Although we have waited far longer for this help than expected, we are grateful to the Senate and the House for providing the assistance that will help Flint residents deal with this unprecedented health crisis and gain a brighter future,” Weaver said in a statement.