Senate Passes Funding for Flint Water Crisis

     WASHINGTON (CN) — A $9 billion water-infrastructure spending bill the Senate passed Thursday includes emergency aid to help Flint, Michigan, overcome its continuing leaded-water crisis.
     The bill gives $220 million in emergency funding for Flint and other communities with declared emergencies related to leaded-drinking water. Of that amount, $100 million will be available immediately after Michigan submits a comprehensive plan to the Environmental Protection Agency, while the rest will be available through a mix of loans and grants to establish specific lead education and health programs.
     The bill also allows Michigan to forgive Flint’s debts on loans it received before this year and authorizes more than $1 billion in loans for water-infrastructure improvements in communities across the country.
     In addition, the Department of Justice and the inspector general of the EPA must provide status reports on investigations into how the government responded to the leaded water crisis in Flint. The bill requires public water utilities as well to notify people when the lead levels in their drinking water exceed regulatory allowances for drinking water.
     Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Democrats from Michigan, crafted the emergency Flint spending package.
     “Flint residents have been living with contaminated water for far too long and are still relying on bottled water and filters for drinking, cooking and bathing,” Peters said in a statement after the vote. “I am pleased the Senate came together to pass this bipartisan, fully paid-for legislation to provide much-needed support for Flint families. I urge my colleagues in the House to swiftly pass similar assistance to help Flint and other communities across the country make critical investments to upgrade their aging water infrastructure. While the federal government can and should help Flint recover from this ongoing crisis, the State of Michigan must step up with sustained, long-term support for the people of Flint.”
     Democrats blocked a bipartisan energy bill in February because Republicans did not attach an aid package for Flint. At the time, Republicans called emergency funding premature because there had not yet been a comprehensive assessment of cost.
     But the new bill, which includes the Flint aid directly in the text rather than in an amendment, enjoyed overwhelming support from both parties Thursday and moved through the Senate this week with relative ease.
     After easily clearing two procedural votes Wednesday, the bill passed 95-3 Thursday morning.
     Sens. Jeff Flake, Mike Lee and Ben Sasse, all Republicans, were the lone no-votes on the bill.
     The fight now turns to the House, which is set to consider a stripped-down version without the Flint language. If the House passes its version of the bill, the two would go to conference where lawmakers would need to hammer out any differences.
     Speaking on the floor before the vote Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called on House Republicans to take up the Senate bill rather than passing their own version that would need to go to conference.
     “I would like to simply say to my friends in the House through the chair, if I can, there is a simple way to go,” Boxer said. “Take up and pass the Senate bill.”

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