News Feature | March 1, 2016

Cruz Flips On Decision To Block Flint Aid Deal

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Bipartisan legislation providing hundreds of millions of dollars for safe water in Flint, MI, is tied up in the Senate.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential hopeful and relentless critic of federal spending, took steps to prevent the safe-water money from moving forward, placing a “hold” on the bill. Any senator can use the parliamentary procedure known as a “hold” to prevent a bill from moving to the Senate floor for consideration.

Cruz “objected to a quick vote on the deal, delaying Senate consideration of the bill until at least [this] week. Cruz was campaigning [last week] ahead of a scheduled Republican debate in Houston, but senators are able to block bills remotely under Senate rules,” PBS Newshour reported on February 25.

In the end, Cruz released his hold on the bill. "Cruz has reviewed the bill now and will not prevent it from moving forward," Phil Novack, a spokesman for Cruz, told Politico.

Nevertheless, the fate of the Flint money remains unclear, since Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, put a hold on the bill, according to Politico.

The aim of the legislation is to get money to Flint, MI, to address the tap water crisis in that city, where the water is contaminated with lead. The bill amounts to a “$220 million package to fix and replace the city's lead-contaminated pipes, make other infrastructure improvements and bolster lead-prevention programs nationwide,” The Chicago Tribune reported.

Sen. James Inhofe, R-OK, was “a main architect” of the Flint deal, the Tribune reported. Inhofe is the top senator on the Environment and Public Works Committee. The measure is bipartisan, sponsored by Michigan Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, both Democrats, as well as Inhofe, The Detroit News reported.

Here’s what the legislation would do, per a statement from Inhofe’s office:

  • Provide $100 million for Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs) accessible by any state with a drinking water emergency. The legislation would require a state to submit a plan explaining how the money will be spent to address the emergency before funding is provided. Funds that remain after 18 months will be distributed to all states under the existing SRF formula.
  • Provide $70 million in funding to back secured loans made under the new Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA), which leverages federal investment up to 60 to 1. A federal investment of $70 million could support secured loans of up to $4.2 billion to address water and wastewater infrastructure needs across the country. All states and all communities with clean water and drinking water infrastructure needs are eligible for this assistance.
  • Provide $50 million for various authorized health programs for national use to address and prevent impacts from exposure to lead.
  • Pay for the funding by reprogramming $250 million from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program.

Inhofe said in a statement: “This legislation is not just about Flint but is about the nation as a whole. The media’s attention to Flint has put a spotlight on the crisis we face across the nation due to a failure to address aging water infrastructure.”

Flint was thrust into the national news this year when the governor declared a state of emergency over a lead contamination crisis that is taking a toll on public health. Everything from lead to disinfectant byproducts have plagued the supply since the city switched from Detroit water and began drinking Flint River water two years ago. One study “found elevated lead blood levels — surpassing 5 micrograms per deciliter — in 4 percent of Flint youngsters,” ThinkProgress reported.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are bringing the Democratic presidential primary contest to Flint in what they have framed as an attempt to keep the national focus on the issues there. They will hold a debate in Flint on March 6, two days ahead of the Michigan and Mississippi primaries, according to CNN.

For all of our coverage of Flint-related issues, visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Contaminant Removal Solutions Center.