Partially Happy New Fiscal Year!
Congress has enacted temporary spending to last through December 9, and the President has signed the bill. It’s very good news that there is no interruption in funding for housing, emergency food, education, child care, and a host of other important programs with the October 1 beginning of the new fiscal year. It’s a relief that Congress included $1.1 billion so that work can proceed on identifying and helping victims of Zika and preventing its spread. And also welcome is the $500 million down payment to assist victims of flooding in Louisiana and elsewhere.
Still, if you get the sense from Celebrating Woman at the right that our joy is not, well, uncontained, you’re right. We worked with many others to get funding to Flint, Michigan, to speed the work of getting poisonous lead out of their drinking water. Since 2014, when reckless changes in the water system approved by state officials led to a doubling and tripling of lead poisoning in young children in acutely affected neighborhoods, Flint has needed action. To be fair, they have gotten emergency support. But it is still unsafe to drink the water without filtration devices. That is not an adequate solution. Disappointingly, the final deal over the temporary funding bill did not include money for Flint.
But that’s not the end of the story. The Senate had previously included $220 million to help Flint and other communities with lead-contaminated water in legislation funding water projects nationwide. That bill, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), passed the Senate overwhelmingly (95-3). The House did not want to include help for Flint in its version of this bill. But in order to demonstrate that Congress will agree to provide funding for Flint when they return in November, those in charge in the House reversed themselves and allowed a vote to add $170 million for Flint and other lead-affected communities. The amendment passed 284-141, and the House went on to enact their full water projects bill.
Now the House and Senate will have to agree to a final version in conference committee, and that will happen on their return after the election. Because both House and Senate bills have resources for Flint, and members want all those water projects to pass, it is very likely that Flint will get its funding in Congress’ post-election session. So, Celebrating Woman, toot that horn with a little more enthusiasm.
Advocates should celebrate, because without our work together, this would not have happened. Children’s advocates, environmental groups, physicians, faith and civil rights organizations, community-based groups in Michigan and other people of conscience nationwide spoke out and contacted Congress repeatedly. Things did not go our way repeatedly – time and again, Congress put off efforts by Senators Stabenow (D-MI) and Peters (D-MI) and Representative Kildee (D-MI) to help their people. But they did not stop pressing for this, and advocates did not stop either. Shortly after Congress returned after Labor Day, the Coalition on Human Needs cooperated with MomsRising, First Focus, and the American Academy of Pediatrics on petitions to Congress calling for Flint help with many thousands of signatures. About a week ago, CHN got out an alert asking individuals to email their representatives and senators, and because that message was forwarded by organizations including People Demanding Action, well over 26,000 letters were emailed. CHN circulated a group letter with national organizations early in September; the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights did another closer to the fiscal year’s end. Labor unions were very active. There was much more – these are just examples we know more about.
The firm stance of Congressional Democrats that Flint must get help was critically important. Their hands were strengthened by the work of advocates.
So, back to celebrating, if partially. The progress we’ve made is important, but we’re not done yet. The people of Flint have not gotten the help they need yet. But let’s recognize, with good cheer, that when we speak out and don’t give up, it makes a difference.
Happy Fiscal New Year!