Flint Water Crisis
For nearly two years, the residents of Flint, Michigan have been continually exposed to exceedingly high levels of lead due to the city’s contaminated municipal water supply. While this egregious government misstep can be corrected, the short and long-term damage done to the health and well-being of Flint’s residents cannot be undone. This is especially true for Flint’s youngest residents, who will suffer lifelong damaging consequences of lead exposure’s impact on cognitive and behavioral development.
While the city’s aging infrastructure must be addressed, the human impact of this man-made crisis demands solutions that are both comprehensive and long-term. In addition to sustained federal investment through vital formula and other grant programs, the federal government must act swiftly to provide supplemental resources to ensure all those exposed have access to health, education, workforce, and community supports. The Committee estimates an additional $1.3 billion in total supplemental funding of over 10 years would begin to move the community forward.
Supplemental Federal funding to expand access to crucial support services and programming for:
Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP): Research shows that a healthy diet that includes significant amounts of nutrients known to decrease lead absorption like zinc, vitamin C, iron, and calcium, is one of the most effective ways to mitigate the effects of lead poisoning. $16.5 million in supplemental CACFP funding over 10 years will provide a nutrient-rich third meal to all participating children – a total of 563,376 additional meals per year.
Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Supplemental Nutrition Program: Lead exposure is most damaging to infants, toddlers, and expectant mothers, creating negative cognitive and behavioral effects that can last a lifetime. Children and families in Flint must have access to continuous nutritional resources throughout the day and over the span of their first several years in order to mitigate the negative impacts of lead poisoning. $47.3 million in supplemental WIC funding over 10 years would ensure access for all eligible beneficiaries and allow all beneficiaries under the age of five in Flint to remain program eligible through age ten. Children impacted by lead exposure will receive the nutritional benefits of WIC participation well into childhood.
Head Start: The brain grows and forms neural connections at a faster rate during a person’s earliest years than at any other point in our lives. Lead contamination inhibits the growth of these connections resulting in decreased brain development, academic achievement, and life outcomes. Research shows that early academic, nutritional, and behavioral interventions, which are included in Head Start programming, can substantially mitigate the adverse effects of lead absorption. Head Start is the only federal educational program designed to provide nutritional education to parents and ensure access to necessary health and development screenings for participating children. Currently, only 20 percent of eligible Flint children have access to Head Start and Early Head Start services. $99 million in supplemental Head Start funding over six years will allow all eligible children, or an additional 4,000 infants and toddlers, to participate in Head Start.
Preschool Development Grant (PDG): Children who attend quality early learning programs, like preschool, are more likely to enter kindergarten with the academic skills needed to succeed, graduate high school and college, earn a living wage, be in positive relationships, and are less likely to be arrested, drop out, or die from preventative causes. These outcomes are especially impactful for infants and toddlers exposed to high levels of lead during the most formative years of cognitive development. Quality preschool programs focus on early literacy, foundational math skills, and socio-emotional learning. $9.6 million in supplemental PDG funding over six years will allow up to 5,000 three- and four-year-olds in Flint the opportunity to participate in high-quality preschool programs.
IDEA Part B Section 619 and IDEA Part C (Early Childhood Special Education Services): Once an IDEA-eligible infant or toddler is screened for and classified as having developmental or learning disabilities, they have the right to receive special education services. Lead exposure in young children leads to decreased language and literacy skills, behavioral challenges, and a higher likelihood of being affected by a learning disability. $37.6 million in supplemental IDEA Part B Sec. 619 funding and $47.1 million in supplemental IDEA Part C funding over six years will ensure all Flint children age six and under receive special education services to address developmental or learning disabilities resulting from lead exposure.
21st Century Community Learning Centers (After School): Because children spend the majority of every day at school, schools should be equipped to deliver interventions and services intended to mitigate and address issues caused by exposure to lead, including through quality before and after school programming. $124 million in supplemental 21st Century Community Learning Center funding over 10 years will allow all Flint children to access quality after school programming, such as literacy interventions, nutritional education, and social-emotional enrichment activities.
ESEA Title II (Professional Development): Flint’s teachers and paraprofessionals must be equipped with the skills necessary to meet new challenges as schools address the impact of lead exposure in classrooms for years to come. More teachers and paraprofessionals will need early literacy and special education training to improve instruction and better serve children impacted. $18.8 million in supplemental ESEA Title II funding over 10 years for professional development will double resources available to ensure teachers and paraprofessionals are able to meet the learning needs of all students.
IDEA Part B (K-12 Special Education Services): The effects of lead poisoning are long lasting. IDEA Part B Sec. 619 and IDEA Part C help to address the needs of infants and toddlers, but as those children grow and enter the K-12 system, they will likely still be eligible for special education services. Supplemental IDEA Part B funding will ensure availability and continuity of continual special education services necessary to address the long-term educational needs of students poisoned by lead. $263 million in supplemental IDEA Part B funding over 10 years will ensure all 25,000 K-12 students in the Flint area have access to special education services through high school graduation.
Pell Grants: Children and youth suffering lost learning time and trauma from lead exposure in Flint must not be forced to forego higher education due to program cost, including increased costs borne from enrollment in remedial courses. $315.7 million in supplemental Pell funding over 10 years will provide the maximum Pell award to more than 7,000 college students impacted by the Flint water crisis.
Work Study: College-enrolled youth from Flint can further reduce the cost of higher education through participation in Work Study. $88.9 million in supplemental Work Study funding over 10 years will ensure all college students impacted by the Flint water crisis can receive an average work study grant of $1,700 per year.
ESEA Title I, Part D (Neglected and Delinquent Youth): Continuity in provision of educational services is critical to meet the learning and behavioral needs of all children and youth in Flint affected by the water crisis. This is especially true for children and youth who are or will be in juvenile and adult correctional institutions. A solid body of evidence shows a significant decrease – up to 56 percent – in violent crime following a community’s discontinued use of leaded gasoline. Based on this body of evidence and the known impact of sustained lead exposure on long-term behavioral health, Flint will likely see an increase in violent behavior and subsequent juvenile justice involvement as a result of this public health crisis. $1.6 million in supplemental Title I, Part D funding over 10 years will equip Flint to address a projected 56 percent increase in the juvenile justice system population.
Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA): Programs authorized under JJDPA can be used to help children and youth suffering from the negative behavioral impacts of lead poisoning. Additional funding will ensure that all children and youth impacted by the Flint water crisis receive mentoring and preventative services to avoid interaction with the juvenile justice system and the school to prison pipeline. $3 million in supplemental Mentoring for Youth Underserved Populations funding over 10 years will allow Flint to receive the maximum grant allocation allowed under this program to provide mentoring and prevention services for underserved youth. $6 million in supplemental juvenile detention center funding over 10 years will give Flint the resources necessary to provide adequate facilities and programming for incarcerated youth.
Vocational Rehabilitation (VR): This program provides grants to states to support job training and on-the-job services to increase competitive integrated employment for individuals with disabilities, including through provision of pre-employment transition services in coordination with provision of special education services for middle and high school students. Due to the known negative impacts of lead exposure on the health and well-being of Flint’s workforce, more residents are likely to seek VR services for years to come. Due to the known, long term, and adverse effects of lead exposure on childhood cognitive and behavioral development, Vocational Rehabilitation, in partnership with local educational agencies, must be supported to provide high quality pre-employment transition services for all students impacted by the water crisis. $46.8 million in supplemental VR funding over 10 years will provide increased pre-employment transition services for Flint students and employment training and placement services for up to 3,000 Flint residents who suffer from a disability due to the Flint water crisis.
Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Programs: WIOA programming equips young people with the skills necessary to get and sustain solid, middle class jobs in in-demand and high-growth sectors, with emphasis on supports for hard-to-reach and out-of-school youth. Community improvements borne out of response to the water crisis provide a rebuilding opportunity for Flint and its workforce as employment openings in areas such as healthcare, construction, engineering, and education will need to be filled. Workforce training investments can ensure residents in the Flint region are employed in the jobs that the city now needs to rebuild and thrive in years to come. $1.1 million in supplemental WIOA funding over 10 years will equip up to 500 young people impacted by the Flint water crisis with access to the skills training necessary for middle class employment.
Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS): Through AmeriCorps and Senior Corps, CNCS recruits talented and service-minded individuals to assist the Flint community through improvements in community infrastructure, capacity, and delivery of education, health, and workforce services. Supplemental CNCS funding of just $52,000 per year over 10 years will support the creation of a CNCS program specifically dedicated to the Flint region.
Technical assistance for effective delivery of services to Flint’s residents through:
Local Educational Agency Capacity Assessment
Prior to the state-made disaster inflicted on Flint, the Flint schools and local government were struggling to provide quality, necessary services to their residents. It is important and welcomed that additional resources are and will come into Flint. It is also necessary, however, that these resources are managed efficiently and effectively. A singular local educational agency may lack the capacity to direct additional funds and resources to all the necessary parties and projects. As a result, the Department of Education (ED) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should assess local educational agency capacity to handle incoming assistance and, upon such assessment, recommend a conduit lead agency for coordination and distribution of services to serve children and families impacted by the Flint water crisis.
Flexibility for Continual Individualized Case Management
Investments in programs are only minimally helpful if they cannot be used in congruence with one another. Flint residents must have consistent case management support to allow for seamless delivery of services and assistance from birth through high school. Health screenings, early learning providers, K-12 and higher education programs, and workforce training, when working in tandem, have the unique opportunity to provide a seamless set of services and consistent opportunity for consultation for children from birth through graduation. Congress should grant HHS and ED flexibility, including through designation of a lead federal agency, in implementing program funds for health screenings, education, and career training to ensure case management and service continuity for affected children and families.