Advance Notice: Briefs

Whitmer: Goal is to replace all Benton Harbor lead service lines in 18 mos.

By: - October 14, 2021 11:57 am

Susan J. Demas

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday signed an executive directive aimed at coordinating her administration’s efforts on safe drinking water for Benton Harbor.

Whitmer said the state is committed to expediting lead service line replacements using additional federal, state and local resources, with the goal of replacing 100% of lead service lines in Benton Harbor in 18 months. That comes after Benton Harbor received about $20 million to speed up their removal, including $10 million in the Michigan Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 budget.

“Every Michigander deserves safe drinking water, and every community deserves lead-free pipes,” said Whitmer. “I’m proud to sign an Executive Directive today that will pursue a whole-of-government approach to protect access to safe drinking water right now and work tirelessly to replace every lead service line in Benton Harbor as soon as possible. I cannot imagine the stress that moms and dads in Benton Harbor are under as they emerge from a pandemic, work hard to put food on the table, pay the bills, and face a threat to the health of their children.”

There is no safe level of lead. Lead exposure harms brain development in children and it causes both short and long-term health problems for adults. The leading causes of lead exposure are drinking water and paint.

Here are some of the actions the directive takes:

  • Residents of Benton Harbor must continue to have access to free bottled water until further notice.
  • Residents must be offered free or low-cost lead-related services including but not limited to drinking water testing and health services.
  • The State of Michigan will collaborate closely with federal partners, county officials, city officials, and community leaders to communicate up-to-date information and leverage every available resource to accelerate lead service line replacement.

“Today’s executive directive is the result of close collaboration between the City of Benton Harbor and the Whitmer-Gilchrist Administration to meet the needs of residents in Benton Harbor,” said Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad. “I am grateful for the state’s diligent work to respond to our concerns and provide resources for residents in need.”

The state submitted a request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, to confirm authorization of WIC ready-to-feed formula. This will allow eligible WIC clients in the city of Benton Harbor currently receiving powder or liquid concentrate formula manufactured in ready-to-feed form access to formula that does not require mixing with water. Ready-to-feed formulas would be redeemed like current formula benefits, using the WIC EBT card at authorized WIC vendors.

A notification was submitted to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, to expand use of Medicaid Child Health Insurance Program Health Services Initiative funds for lead prevention services for Benton Harbor households. Once the notification process is complete, households with children under 19 years of age enrolled in a Medicaid Health Plan, or a pregnant person enrolled in a Medicaid Health Plan, would be eligible for a free environmental investigation into lead hazards within the home, and to provide the necessary lead abatement work to ensure the home is lead-safe.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist Benton Harbor on Thursday.

“Residents of Benton Harbor deserve access to clean, safe drinking water, and today’s executive directive mobilizes the resources of government to achieve that goal,” he said.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 23-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on C-SPAN, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ people, the state budget, the economy and more. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 100 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive.