Menendez Gets Commitment from HUD to ‘Do What is Necessary’ to Help Newark, Surrounding Communities Address Lead in Drinking Water
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, a senior member of the Senate Banking Committee and the ranking Democrat on the housing subcommittee, today received a direct commitment from U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson to “do what is necessary” to assist Newark and the surrounding New Jersey communities following elevated lead level tests in drinking water.
“As you know, the City of Newark recently discovered elevated lead levels from some limited water samples. I’ve already called on the EPA to provide on-the-ground support and technical assistance, and I believe HUD needs to be part of the solution here as well,” Sen. Menendez said to Secretary Carson. “Would you commit, as we did in Flint, to have a person, who is designated for Newark and the surrounding communities that are affected by this, to assist them as it relates to flexibility that has been shown in the past in CDBG [Community Development Block Grant] funding?”
“I will commit to doing anything that we possibly can do to alleviate the problem there, and if that involves a specific person or a dozen specific people, we will do what is necessary,” Secretary Carson responded.
Secretary Carson made the commitment during Sen. Menendez’s questioning while Carson, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mark Calabria testified before the Banking Committee on housing finance reform.
During the Flint, Mich. water crisis, HUD assigned one full-time staff person to directly assist HUD residents in the region and collaborate with federal, state, and local agencies to provide education, outreach and intervention actions.
States and local municipalities can request HUD to allow them to reprogram all or some of the CDBG funds they have received to pay to address lead in homes.
Since tests revealed elevated lead levels in the drinking water of some Newark residents, Sen. Menendez has continued to work with the city and state to find solutions, and to engage federal agencies for assistance.
Last night, the Senate unanimously passed legislation sponsored by Sens. Menendez and Cory Booker to provide states like New Jersey with financial flexibility to advance pressing drinking water infrastructure projects.
Sens. Menendez and Booker and Congressmen Albio Sires (N.J.-08) and Donald Payne, Jr. (N.J.-10) sent a letter calling on the EPA to assist state and local efforts in delivering safe drinking water to residents.
Sen. Menendez led the call with Sen. Booker and Reps. Sires and Payne for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide critical resources to expand and administer lead blood screenings in Newark and other affected communities. They also separately urged the USDA to offer additional assistance to serve residents’ immediate needs by making temporary changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC).
Each year, Sen. Menendez fights for robust funding for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which provides low-cost financing for a wide range of water infrastructure development projects in New Jersey and across the country. The SRFs have been a focal point in efforts to address the lead crisis in drinking water across the country. In FY19, the two SRFs were appropriated at nearly a combined $3 billion.
Sen. Menendez has long supported the WIFIA water infrastructure credit assistance program, which was funded at $7.3 billion in FY19, a $600 million increase from the previous year.
The FY19 appropriations bill provided $25 million for lead contamination testing at schools and childcare centers, an increase of $5 million from the year before. The senator has continuously been supportive of grant programs targeted at lead contamination.
Sen. Menendez has also ensured drinking water safety in the Water Resources Development Act, which is reauthorized every other year. The WRDA bill signed into law last fall authorized funding for the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. The WRDA bill also expands the lead in schools testing program to provide schools with additional assistance to address lead contamination, including the replacement of drinking water fountains.
This past May, Sen. Menendez introduced the Lead-Safe Housing for Kids Act. The bill would ensure that families and children living in federally assisted housing are protected from the devastating consequences of lead poisoning by adopting primary prevention measures to protect children in low-income housing. The senator first introduced this bill in 2016 at a press conference held at a public housing complex in Jersey City.