WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker today applauded the unanimous Senate passage of their bill that would help communities, such as Newark, remove lead from drinking water. The Water Infrastructure Funding Transfer Act would give states facing public health crises from lead in drinking water the flexibility to make a one-time transfer, up to $100 million, of the federal funds in their Clean Water State Revolving Fund to their Drinking Water State Revolving Fund for projects that will remove lead from drinking water.
"The federal government has a duty and an obligation to ensure that each family in New Jersey and across our country has access to safe and clean drinking water,” said Sen. Menendez. “Many of our communities are grappling with the challenges of aging water infrastructure in dire need of an upgrade. This legislation allows New Jersey to tap much needed federal funding to address the current situation of elevated lead levels in Newark and other surrounding communities. Giving states that added flexibility allows them to more quickly, efficiently and effectively respond to residents’ needs. I am proud to work with Senator Booker in not just fighting for the critical resources New Jersey needs, but holding those federal agencies accountable for ensuring the health and well-being of our residents.”
“Elevated levels of lead in our drinking water demonstrate our country’s failure to invest in aging infrastructure,” said Sen. Booker. “Right now, some states, including my home state of New Jersey, have federal funds available but are restricted from using them to address lead in drinking water. This legislation would give New Jersey the flexibility to supplement Newark’s bonding package and provide immediate assistance to Newark residents. Residents of Newark, including myself, are counting on the federal government to remedy this environmental injustice and I thank my Senate colleagues from both parties for taking this issue seriously. I hope the House will quickly take up this legislation so states like New Jersey can address the threat of lead in drinking water.”
New Jersey would be able to utilize this change by transferring federal funds from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to offset some of the $120 million bonding project to replace lead service lines in Newark. This flexibility would also allow the State to provide assistance to other municipalities in New Jersey to address the threat of lead in drinking water.
“Access to clean drinking water is a basic human right, but states and municipalities can’t upgrade our nation’s aging water infrastructure alone,” Gov. Phil Murphy said. “I’ve been calling on the federal government to help with the efforts to replace lead service lines in communities across New Jersey. I applaud Senator Booker and Senator Menendez for getting this bill passed so more federal dollars can help Newark and other New Jersey cities. I know the whole New Jersey delegation will now work to get this legislation passed in the House of Representatives and signed into law.”
“The City of Newark is doing everything we can to replace service lines and achieve a permanent solution for Newark families,” Newark Mayor Ras Baraka said. “This federal legislation could lessen our debt load while replacing every service line in the city, at no cost to homeowners. It is great news for Newark and for any city that is working to invest in their water infrastructure and protect their communities.”
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.
After elevated lead levels were found in two homes in Newark last month, Sens. Menendez and Cory Booker and Congressmen Albio Sires (N.J.-08) and Donald Payne, Jr. (N.J.-10) previously sent a letter calling on the EPA to assist state and local efforts in delivering safe drinking water to residents.
Sen. Menendez also 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).
Sen. Menendez has long supporting 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.
October 27, 2020