WASHINGTON – A labor-owned insurance company based in Washington, D.C., has pledged $25 million in low-cost loans to aid the removal of lead in Flint, Mich.'s contaminated water supply.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said Union Labor Life Insurance Co. (ULLICO) has provided the funding as part of a joint effort with the American Federation of Teachers to replace Flint's lead-contaminated water pipes that have been linked to health defects among the city's population.
In a statement released late Sunday, Weaver said she is "very grateful" for the financial support, adding that the first lead line was replaced Friday as part of the state's $55 million Fast Start lead line replacement initiative.
"This investment from union pension funds means that we can move forward to remove more lead lines and renew Flint's infrastructure," Weaver said.
Flint has faced a water crisis after its supply was changed from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River in 2014.
Bipartisan legislation that would provide $220 million of federal funds to Flint and any other community facing a drinking water emergency remains stalled in the Senate due to a vote "hold" from Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who has argued Michigan's budget surplus and rainy day fund should instead be utilized rather than federal funding.
"What's really happening here is that Washington politicians are using the crisis in Flint as an excuse to funnel taxpayer money to their home states and trying to sneak it through the Senate without proper debate and amendment," Lee said in a statement Friday.
The federal funding package, proposed last month by Sens. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., would provide $100 million of drinking water state revolving funds as well as $70 million to back secured loans made under the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act and $50 million toward lead treatment health programs. The sponsors want to add their measure to the Safe Drinking Water Act Improved Compliance Awareness Act (H.R. 4470), which was introduced in early February by Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., approved by the House on Feb. 10, and is pending in the Senate.
After a state of emergency was declared in Flint in January, $30 million of funding was approved by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, which brought state funding to $70 million.
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, discussed their plans to manage the relief effort in a nationally televised debate Sunday night. Both called for Snyder, a Republican, to resign due to his handling of the crisis.
In a statement issued after the debate, Snyder dismissed Clinton and Sanders' calls as politically motivated.
"In the coming days, political candidates will be leaving Flint and Michigan. They will not be staying to help solve the crisis, but I am committed to the people of Flint," Snyder said. "I will fix this crisis and help move Flint forward. Long-term solutions are what the people of Flint need and what I am focused on delivering for them."