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By Alex Ebert
Flint, Mich., won more federal aid as the EPA announced it is forgiving $20.7 million of the city’s debt and the Department of Health and Human Services awarded funding for a registry of those exposed to the city’s lead-contaminated water.
Officials applauded the federal assistance Aug. 1 and said the money will go toward improving public safety and water system updates. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt both said the loan forgiveness will allow for water-infrastructure improvements, according to statements issued by Snyder’s office and the EPA.
The $20.7 million in forgiven debt is from the federal Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which provides financial support to systems that have water supply or treatment problems. The revolving fund provides loans to water systems, and the interest from those loans goes back into the fund to provide other loans.
Flint officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment about this debt forgiveness or the funding for the lead registry. It is uncertain what projects, if any, this $20.7 million in debt forgiveness makes more immediately feasible to the city.
The debt forgiveness brings the total state and federal aid to Flint to more than $370 million. In March, the EPA announced a $100 million grant to fund water infrastructure upgrades in Flint, and Michigan has already spent $250 million.
The funding was provided to combat the fallout from switching Flint’s water supply from Detroit to the local Flint River in 2014. The switch was made as a cost-saving measure, but the move brought dangerous lead exposure due to untreated pipes in the city’s water system and a legionnaire’s disease outbreak from the untreated water.
Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the physician who first found high levels of lead in Flint children, is part of the Michigan State University group receiving the $3.2 million to create a voluntary registry for the 150,000 people in the Flint area that could be affected by lead poisoning.
Hanna-Attisha, who works at MSU-Hurley Children’s Hospital, told Bloomberg BNA that the registry will help connect people, especially children, to health services provided by the state’s Medicaid expansion.
“For example, let’s say a mom enrolls herself and her three-year-old kid,” Hanna-Attisha said. “They could then get connected to the Medicaid expansion’s home visit program where a provider will check on a child’s development and nutrition, which are helpful to combating lead exposure.”
The funds are the first installment in a four-year $14.4 million program. The money will go toward paying staff, software, and legal assistance necessary to wade through technological and legal issues created by an online-registry that shares patient data between providers.
While the registry is not primarily for research, Hanna-Attisha said she hopes the data collected will help better link people to services and can be used for years after the registry’s four-year time frame.
The funding’s initial backer, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), told Bloomberg BNA that he is happy the Trump administration followed through on the funding, but that he wants more support for the area.
Kildee, who was born and raised in Flint, said that his office has not had success discussing the city’s on-going needs with the Trump administration, reaching out twice without hearing back. He said the area will need continuing health and childhood development from the federal government for the next 10 years due to lead exposure, and assistance with the local economy.
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Rep. Kildee's letter to Trump is available at http://src.bna.com/riI
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