Some People’s Water Crises Are More Urgent Than Others

A public epidemic has become public knowledge, thanks, in a manner of speaking, to egregious negligence by Michigan state and local Flint officials.

We’ve learned that millions of children are at risk of lead poisoning — or already have it. Undoubtedly adults too. And they can suffer a wide range of harms. But such research as we have focuses on young children because they’re at highest risk for lifelong damages.

So what then have our federal policymakers done since all this became common knowledge?

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has taken a first step toward strengthening protections against the most common sources of lead poisoning — old house paint and the soil around housing.

But I’ll defer that and focus here on water because it’s been made newly newsworthy by a cliffhanger we may see again.

The administration sent water, filters, funds and folks to Flint shortly after Michigan’s governor declared a state of emergency. But there are still reportedly problems with the water there. And they’ll cost many millions of dollars to fix.

Flint is hardly the only community with lead in the water that comes out of faucets in homes and schools. And, as with Flint, dumping some chemicals into the water supply won’t solve the problem. Lead pipes corrode and have to be replaced.

USA Today reports nearly 2,000 other water systems with higher lead levels than the maximum the Environmental Protection Agency has set as a trigger for action. They’re in all 50 states, it says.

In the District of Columbia too, it seems, though our big lead-in-the-water crisis supposedly ended in 2005 — not, however, because the District no longer has lead pipes. And not apparently because the chemicals added to the water protect us.

The agency responsible for public buildings recently found that over half the public school water systems it tested had lead levels higher than the EPA trigger.

That’s three times higher than what the Centers for Disease Control now says should trigger public health actions. So we’ve had a child health emergency for some time.

The Senate recently approved $220 million to address leaded water problems — this by an overwhelming majority. About $100 million would go to states with drinking water emergencies.

They’d get an additional $70 million to subsidize (not by much) loans for related infrastructure projects. Another $50 million would be divvied up among small, economically disadvantaged communities to help them comply with existing drinking water standards.

This much is fully offset in the much larger water resources development bill. The substantial investments needed to remedy water infrastructure problems would hinge on the outcomes of the annual budget process.

Leading Senate Democrats wanted the paid-for piece included in the continuing resolution needed to prevent a government shutdown. The Republican leadership would have none of it, though it included more than twice as much to aid recently-flooded communities, mainly in Louisiana.

A stalemate then because not enough Democrats would agree to vote on the CR unless it did something about both water crises. And the House couldn’t pass a CR without Democrats because too many Republicans there object to such a short-term stopgap.

A compromise forged by the House Speaker and Democratic Minority Leader averted this different sort of crisis. Seems that impending government shutdowns, like hangings, concentrate the mind wonderfully.

Basically, they agreed to amend the House version of the water resources bill. It had no funds for Flint or any other community whose residents, the youngest especially, are at risk of lead poisoning.

The amended bill, also passed by a large majority, would add $170 million. So there may be some money in the pipeline for some communities with lead in their water pipelines in the upcoming year.

But the $50 million difference in emergency spending is only one of many differences between the House and Senate bills. So negotiators will have a lot of work to do. And whatever they come up with will, of course, have to pass in both the House and Senate.

No such delay or doubts for the flooded communities, however, because their half million is in the CR. Some people’s water crises are more urgent than others.

Now, if lead-laden water had been flowing into members’ own homes — or out of the drinking fountains in their children’s schools ….

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5 Responses to Some People’s Water Crises Are More Urgent Than Others

  1. nethshelley says:

    Dear Kathryn Bear,
    Thank you for the work that you continue to do for the low income population.
    I am running up against a situation under the Medicaid program that I’ve once red if you could address or add insight to.
    It appears that people who have Medicaid insurance are treated differently than the general public when it comes to needing dentures. The usual course of action is to pull the teeth, then insert what they call an immediate denture, which acts basis bandaid as the mouth heals, and this way one is never toothless at anytime during by he process. However, it appears that if your insurance is through Medicaid, you are treated differently, and are send off after your teeth are pulled to ‘heal’ for any where between two and six months before you can have your new dentures inserted.
    I am really appalled that poor people are made to go toothless for such a long time before getting false teeth, when this is not the situation for the general public. It seems like poor shaming at the hands of the Government.
    I am personally experiencing this in my own life, and not surprisingly, unwilling to spend two months without teeth. Why is this practice inflicted on those with Medicaid?
    Could you address this?
    Thank you for your time and for the work you do.
    Shelley Neth

  2. Kathryn Baer says:

    You’re telling me something I didn’t know and will try to look into.

  3. nethshelley says:

    Thank you. I have been investigating it on my own, and think I have uncovered the reason that low income dental clinics, as well as dentists that accept Medicaid, are making Medicaid patients go without teeth for months. It involves a series of Medicaid rules which do not openly state that patients must go toothless, but do make it difficult or impossible for them to offer ‘immediate dentures’ to patients. It gets complicated and will take a little while to spell put, but the end result of the various Medicaid denture rules and hoops providers must jump through is that clinics, such as the low income dental clinic run by the Health District here in Ft. Collins, Colorado, just refuse to insert immediate dentures, and make clients mouths heal after extraction for an average of 6 months without any teeth. I am evidently more vain or resistant than their usual patients, because I refuse to go toothless in public. And have refused treatment at the Health District because of this. I have found a dentist who accepts Medicaid, and is working with me to find a solution. However, he is doing so very reluctantly, after at first declining to do so, because of the time and difficulty involved with working with the government. The problems involve billing rules, and Medicaid’s rules as to how often patients are allowed to get new teeth. If you are interested in the convoluted array of roadblocks faced by dentists and patients needing dentures through Medicaid, I can attempt to explain to you what I have found out, and what my dentist and I are attempting to do to get around the various road blocks. But the bottom line is that clinics don’t have the time, or resources to jump through these hoops and just make the call to make Medicaid patients wait without teeth until they insert a permanent denture. And what I find the most disturbing is that Medicaid clients don’t get any of it explained, are just told that this is how its done. They believe there is no option, and allow their teeth to be pulled with out the benefit of an immediate denture getting inserted in the mean time, as is done for everyone else with normal resources, and accept this affront to their dignity. There are more than a few low income people in my community going toothless for an average of 6 months before getting dentures because they believe they have no other choice. And to me that seems barbaric and smacks of poor shaming. Which is what I told the clinic here when refusing their service. As I mentioned, I am too vain and stubborn to submit to this and have been working hard to get to the bottom of why they do this to people on Medicaid.

  4. Kathryn Baer says:

    That’s part of what I discovered also. But there’s more to this story. I’m working on it in between other things .

  5. nethshelley says:

    Thank you for looking into the Medicaid Denture issue. It looks like it is all about some basic rules regarding how many dentures are covered in a certain time period, which prohibits being able to have both an immediate denture as well as a permanent one made in a 4 year period, for one thing. And they will not cover the required relining required in the case of the immediate denture. So it seems that you may possibly be able to choose an immediate denture to avoid toothlessness, but it will not fit because it cant be relined at the proper time, and you cannot transition to a new, permanent denture for 4 years. If you are even told that that is an option to do in 4 years. Something to that effect. I am still not sure if i have it all right. Getting even this amount of information has been a most difficult thing!
    Thank you, again, for taking your time to look into this, and for everything else you do.
    Shelley Neth

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