Menendez, Booker, Sires, Payne Call on USDA to Help Administer Lead Blood Screenings in Newark

Menendez, Booker, Sires, Payne Call on USDA to Help Administer Lead Blood Screenings in Newark

 

NEWARK, N.J. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker and Congressmen Albio Sires (N.J.-08) and Donald Payne, Jr. (N.J.-10) today called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide critical resources to expand and administer lead blood screenings in Newark after drinking water tested positive for high levels of lead. 

“This means that those most susceptible to lead poisoning—pregnant women and children under five—may have been exposed to dangerous levels of lead through their drinking water,” the federal lawmakers wrote in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.  “The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) are uniquely positioned to provide immediate assistance to Newark, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) through the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA).”

Specifically, the lawmakers requested the USDA allow the NJDOH to use WIC funds to conduct blood lead tests on WIC participants at WIC clinics in Newark, and provide additional funding for NJDOH to open an additional and temporary WIC clinic in Newark to assist in immediately conducting these blood lead tests.  They also requested Secretary Perdue to use his authority to distribute to the NJDA additional emergency food assistance rich in calcium, iron, and Vitamin C, which may help limit the absorption of lead in the body, to already eligible households.

Sens. Menendez and Booker and Reps. Sires and Payne yesterday urged the USDA to offer additional assistance to serve the immediate needs of Newark residents affected by known or suspected lead service lines, including making temporary changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC).

Earlier this week, Sens. Menendez and Booker and Reps. Sires and Payne called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assist state and local efforts in delivering safe drinking water to Newark residents following sampling results from two of three homes that concluded lead levels exceeded the drinking water standard.

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 a nearly a combined $3 billion.

Sen. Menendez also supports the WIFIA water infrastructure credit assistance program. In FY19, the program was funded at $7.3 billion, a $600 million increase from the previous year.

The FY19 appropriations bill provided $25 million for lead contamination testing at schools and child care 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.

Full text of the lawmakers’ latest letter to the USDA is below and can be downloaded here:

 

August 19, 2019

The Honorable Sonny Perdue

Secretary of Agriculture

1400 Independence Avenue SW

Washington, DC 20250

 

Dear Secretary Perdue:

We write in regard to the ongoing concerns with the water quality in Newark, New Jersey and your ability as the Secretary of Agriculture to help mitigate any potential risks to which the City’s residents may be exposed.  As you may be aware, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently discovered levels of lead that exceed the applicable federal drinking water standard during tests of filtered water at Newark residences.  This means that those most susceptible to lead poisoning - pregnant women and children under five – may have been exposed to dangerous levels of lead through their drinking water.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) are uniquely positioned to provide immediate assistance to Newark, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) through the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and the New Jersey Department of Agriculture (NJDA).  WIC, which is administered by the NJDOH, is already serving the populations most susceptible to dangerous lead levels: pregnant women and children up to age five.  Additionally, WIC recipients in New Jersey are also eligible for food packages through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) through the NJDA.  With this in mind, we request that you immediately take the following actions:

  1. Allow the NJDOH to use WIC funds to conduct blood lead tests on WIC participants at WIC clinics in Newark.  
  1. Provide additional funding to NJDOH to open an additional and temporary WIC clinic in Newark to assist in immediately conducting these blood lead tests.
  1. Use your authority to distribute the NJDA additional TEFAP food to already eligible households that contain foods rich in calcium, iron, and Vitamin C, which may help limit the absorption of lead in the body.

We appreciate your attention to this matter.  Please provide a response no later than August 23, 2019.

 

Sincerely,

 

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