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Senate To Vote To Give More Funds Toward Flint's Drinking Water Crisis


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. This week, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on money for Flint. One hundred million dollars would help that Michigan city rework its water system. There's more money in there as well. And we're going to talk about this with Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow who co-sponsored the legislation and is in our studios. Good morning.

DEBBIE STABENOW: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Thanks for coming by. Can't believe I'm going to phrase it this way but only $100 million for the plumbing.

STABENOW: Well, the good news is this, Steve, and, first of all, the people of Flint have waited way too long. This should never have happened. And we know it happened because of decisions made, bad decisions, at the state level. And we've been working very, very hard since the beginning of the year to get them help in addition to what the state is required to do. It's about $200 million to fix what happened in terms of the pipes, replacing pipes in the immediate sense so folks can turn on the faucet and get safe, clean drinking water. We have $100 million in there for that, $50 million to help with public health issues for children and another about $700 million in loans - very favorable loans - that the state can apply for as well as other communities around the country.

INSKEEP: Here's why I said only $100 million at the beginning. We've had...

STABENOW: I could live on that, by the way.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) We talked with Karen Weaver, the mayor of Flint, Mich., who has noted, as many people have heard, there was lead obviously in the water in Flint. We've had horrible public health damage there, and people have not been able to drink the water unfiltered up to now. She wants to redo the entire water system, says people are not going to have confidence in any fix short of that, and that sounds like a multibillion-dollar fix. Can you get as far as you need to go if this bill passes?

STABENOW: Well, first of all, the state has to be front and center on all of this literally because of - they were the ones that caused it. There's two steps. One, to make sure people have confidence that they can live in their home and cook and bathe their children and turn on the faucet. And we're told that that sum - $200 million - to replace the pipes that have been corroded and all that needs to be done immediately.

Then there's a bigger problem in Flint with the fact that their whole water system was made for a larger community. It's now 100,000 people. It's leaking water. There's other issues. And I agree with the mayor. It is a broader issue. And that's where the loan program comes in where the state can now, under our package, apply for a very favorable low interest loans to be able to address the rest of it.

So I'm concerned about making sure people can live and have the dignity of clean water in their home, make sure that we are addressing long-term public health, nutrition and educational needs of children as well as adults. And then absolutely the state's got to take the lead in rebuilding that water infrastructure. I agree with the mayor.

INSKEEP: Are Republicans on board with Democrats on this front?

STABENOW: Yes. And I have to say it didn't start out that way. I mean, we had a Republican objection. We wanted to get this done in February. A senator from Utah, Senator Lee, objected and put us into a very difficult situation. But I am very grateful. Senator Inhofe, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, came forward immediately to say I want to help. He and Senator Boxer, his democratic partner on this, have been terrific. And last night, we had 90 votes, only one opposing - Senator Lee...

INSKEEP: That was a test vote in effect, a cloture vote as they call it.

STABENOW: It was a test vote, and we're ready to move forward.

INSKEEP: But let me just ask you, Senator, because of the attention on Flint, some other communities have been getting more attention - West Virginia. We could name other places where there's been lead in the water. Have you had other communities asking in recent days and weeks what about me? What about us?

STABENOW: Yes. Well, the good news is is this is part of a larger water bill that does address all communities. So we're going to be addressing lead in water all across the country.

INSKEEP: Senator, thanks for coming by, really appreciate it.

STABENOW: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.