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Sen. Peters Floor Remarks on Flint Assistance Amendment Package

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Gary Peters

Senator Peters Floor Remarks on Flint Assistance Amendment Package

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) spoke on the Senate Floor today on the amendment package he is introducing with Senator Debbie Stabenow (MI) to assist families in Flint following the water crisis.

“Mr. President, I rise today to speak in support of the Stabenow-Peters amendment package that will provide much-needed assistance to Flint, Michigan.

“For decades, Flint was known as the birthplace of GM and for playing a key role in the creation of the United Auto Workers.

“Now, national attention is trained on Flint not for its role in the creation of America’s middle class, but for the utter abandonment by the State government of a city where 40% of the population lives below the poverty line.

“Nearly two years ago, an unelected emergency manager appointed by Michigan’s Governor changed the City of Flint’s water source to the Flint River in an attempt to save money while the City prepared to transition to a new regional water authority. The ultimate cost of this misguided, dangerous decision will not be known for decades.

“After switching away from clean water sourced from the Detroit Water Authority, Flint residents began to receive improperly treated Flint River water – long known to be contaminated and potentially corrosive.

“Water poured from Flint faucets that tasted and smelled terrible and was discolored – brown or yellow in many cases.

“In fact, GM stopped using this water source for their Flint Engine operations because the high chloride levels were corroding parts during the manufacturing process.

“The result of the State government decision was – and continues to be – catastrophic.  Flint families were exposed to lead and other toxins that will have lasting effects for a generation.

“The water crisis in Flint is an immense failure on the part of Michigan’s State Government to ensure the health and safety of the people of Flint and to provide the basic human right of clean water for drinking, bathing, and cooking.

“It is a failure that will cause Flint’s children to suffer from the adverse health effects of lead exposure for years to come.

“A failure that has created the enormous challenge of fixing a water system that had corrosive water flowing through its pipes for months.

“Even after Flint has transitioned back to distributing water from Detroit that should be safe, the potentially irreversible damage done to water lines still requires the use of filters. This ongoing crisis has left a city of 100,000 people drinking bottled water donated from across the nation.

“And in light of the State Government’s failure, I am disappointed State government still has not sufficiently stepped up to provide the necessary resources to deal with the short and long-term effects of water contamination in Flint.

“While the cause of this crisis – and the ultimate responsibility to fix it – lies with the State Government, we need to bring resources from all levels of government to bear to address this unprecedented emergency.

“Along with my Michigan colleagues – Senator Stabenow and Representative Kildee – I have been working tirelessly to leverage all available federal resources for the people of Flint.

“The effects of lead exposure on children are insidious – causing long-term developmental problems, nervous system damage, and decreased bone and muscle growth.

“There is no cure, but we can mitigate these problems with a commitment to delivering nutrition, education, healthcare, and other wrap-around services that a generation of Flint kids now need more than ever.

“My colleagues and I have requested the U.S. Department of Agriculture allow existing programs to provide ready-to-feed infant formula – which does not need to be mixed with water – to all infants in Flint.

“We have urged the Department of Health and Human Services to make Head Start available for every eligible child in the City of Flint.

“We are working to make sure every Flint resident has access to affordable health care and encouraging residents to purchase coverage though open enrollment at healthcare.gov before the January 31st deadline or to sign up for Medicaid if they are eligible.

“I will continue to work with Congress, the Administration, and leaders on the ground in Flint to secure any federal support possible for Flint families and small businesses that have been harmed.

“As part of our efforts to support the people of Flint, Senator Stabenow and I are offering an amendment that will help begin the process to make Flint whole with substantial investments in fixing this problem in both the short and long-term.

“Our amendment will assist the City of Flint in four ways.

“First, the amendment would include my bill, the Improving Notification for Clean and Safe Drinking Water Act, or INCASE Act, which will require the EPA to directly notify the public of dangerously high lead levels in drinking water if the local public water system and State fail to do so within 15 days.

“The EPA repeatedly made recommendations to the State Government – urging them to take steps to improve the water and protect the people.

“Unfortunately, the State of Michigan failed to take action and failed to properly notify Flint residents of the health risks in the water system for months.

“The primary responsibility for notifying residents lies with the State Government. But when you have a situation like Flint where the State was sitting on critical information, there has to be another layer of accountability.

“Second, our amendment will authorize EPA to issue direct grants to the State of Michigan and the City of Flint to hire new personnel, provide technical assistance, and most importantly replace and repair water service lines – the only long-term solution.

“These aging service lines were certainly a concern before this crisis – but now there is an urgent need to repair and replace them.

“For nearly two years, corrosive water flowed through the pipes – leaching lead and other toxins.  This provision will fund the repairs for the service lines that were severely – and potentially permanently – damaged as a result.

“Third, our amendment includes a technical fix that will allow current Drinking Water State Revolving Funds to be used for loan forgiveness.

“This will provide upwards of $20 million in relief to Flint and allowing them to direct new funds for investment in water infrastructure and not interest payments.

“Earlier this year, the EPA acknowledged that the State did not have the authority to forgive these loans.

“That’s why this amendment includes a temporary, technical fix to allow states to use the EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund resources for loan forgiveness and debt relief on debt incurred before the current fiscal year.

“Finally, our amendment will direct the U.S. Health and Human Services to establish a Center of Excellence on Lead Exposure in Flint, which will bring together local universities, hospitals, medical professionals, and the State and County Public Health Departments in an effort to address the short and long-term health effects of lead exposure in the city.

“Mr. President, it is important to remember that the children of Flint have been impacted the most by this crisis, and through no fault of their own.

“Whether in Flint or elsewhere in America, we have a responsibility to care for our children. We must repair the trust Flint residents have lost in the ability of government officials to protect them and provide the most basic services.

“I strongly urge my colleagues to join us in our effort to help Flint recover from this unnecessary, man-made disaster.

“Standing up for children is not a Republican or Democratic issue. I hope we can come together here.

“This is common ground on which we can stand together and stand up for the people and children of Flint.”

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