WASHINGTON ― For months senators have argued over whether they should approve money to help Flint, Michigan, rebuild its contaminated water system. On Thursday, two years after people in the city discovered they were drinking poisonous tap water, the upper chamber acted.
Yet Flint will have to keep waiting.
There is no official plan to take up the legislation in the House before lawmakers leave at the end of the month for another break ahead of the election.
The $220 million aid package, which was wrapped into a larger $10 billion water projects bill, would help cities dealing with crumbling water infrastructures, such as Flint. It passed the Senate 95-3 on Thursday.
The measure includes $100 million in grants and loans made available to Flint and other cities that need to replace their lead-contaminated pipes, $70 million in loans to improve water infrastructure across the U.S., and $50 million to boost prevention programs and test water in schools for lead.
Earlier this year, Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D) and Gary Peters (D) pushed for approving emergency funds for Flint. When that didn’t work, they partnered with Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on the measure that passed Thursday. It provides loan credits for any city dealing with a presidentially declared water infrastructure emergency by redistributing funds from an Energy Department program for advanced vehicles.
Stabenow admitted the road to passage was longer than she would have liked.
“People have waited way too long,” she told The Huffington Post earlier this week. “So many come up to me and talk about what’s happening in Flint as if it was over. People are still using bottled water to bathe, to cook, to drink with on a daily basis.”
Stabenow remains hopeful that the House will take up the Senate bill before members leave at the end of the month. That is unlikely, though. Stabenow speculated that one option is for the House to attach the Senate legislation on a continuing resolution to fund the government, which Congress needs to pass before Oct. 1.
Ahead of Thursday’s vote, however, Inhofe and Boxer debated the timing of when the House would ultimately take up the bill and whether the Flint package would be included. Inhofe said House Republicans are eager to go to conference with the Senate on the water resources bill, where they can work on the Flint language to resolve differences between what the two chambers deem acceptable ― meaning the legislation likely wouldn’t reach the president’s desk until after the November election.
“So I just want to be clear it would be a shortsighted mistake for those trying to help the people in Flint to prevent the quick movement of [the Water Resources Development Act] in the House so we can conference immediately,” Inhofe said.
A handful of House members have pushed back against taking up the larger water resources bill without the money for cities such as Flint attached. Inhofe vowed on Thursday that he would not back down on including the Flint aid when the two chambers work out their differences on the bill.
Boxer said Democrats would work with him if it came to that but urged the House to take an easier road.
“I would like to simply say to my friends in the House there is a simple way to go: Take up and pass the Senate bill,” she said.
Flint’s water has been contaminated with lead since 2014 when the state of Michigan changed the city’s water source to the Flint River. The new water corroded the city’s lead pipes, causing thousands of people to be poisoned. Lead is a dangerous toxin, capable of causing a wide range of health problems, including irreversible brain damage in children.
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