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Appropriations Update and Take Action: Funding for Healthy Housing and Lead Poisoning Prevention

It has been a busy few weeks on the appropriations front for healthy housing.

The good news is that the Senate appropriations committee voted on June 25 for level funding for HUD and CDC healthy homes, lead poisoning prevention, and lead hazard control programs! THANK YOU to all of you for your sign-ons and phone calls to make this happen! This is all the more remarkable given the very severe budget caps!

Unfortunately, both Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Health and Human Services (HHS) suffered billions of dollars in funding cuts overall. The cuts harmed several critical environmental health and housing programs that impact healthy housing, including the National Housing Trust Fund, HOME, and CDBG. We will continue advocacy to lift the onerous budget caps and increase HUD and CDC funding levels.


Please Take Action Today:

Call Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate HUD appropriations subcommittee:

  1. Call Senator Collins at 202.224.2523 and say: "I'm calling to thank Senator Collins for maintaining level funding for HUD's Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control. I greatly appreciate her standing up again for the health and well-being of America's children and communities."
  2. Call Senator Jack Reed at 202.224.4642 and say: "I'm calling to thank Senator Reed for maintaining level funding for HUD's Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control and for offering an amendment to increase that funding. I greatly appreciate him standing up again for the health and well-being of America's children and communities."

Also, please forward this email to any friends and colleagues in Maine and Rhode Island, and ask them to make the phone call too!

Join the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition.


Updates:

  1. HUD Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes (OLHCHH):
    • On June 9, the House of Representatives passed its HUD appropriations bill cutting HUD’s OLHCHH funding by $35 million to $75 million in 2016.
    • On June 25, the Senate appropriations committee voted in a bipartisan effort to maintain level funding for HUD's OLHCHH at $110 million in 2016.
  2. CDC Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program:
    • On June 24, the House Appropriations Committee voted to cut this program by $1/2 million to $15 million in 2016.
    • On June 25, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted to maintain level funding for CDC's Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention program at $15.5 million in 2016.
Several representatives and senators spoke out and offered amendments in favor of the HUD Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention programs, and Representative David Price (D-NC) mentioned the Partnership Effort for the Advancement of Children's Health (PEACH) of Durham, North Carolina, by name. Go PEACH!


Next Steps:

The National Center for Healthy Housing and the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition will work to increase the overall budget caps to allow for funding increases to HUD and CDC, and continue to advocate for level or increased funding to healthy homes programs. The House and Senate will continue to deliberate and negotiate final appropriations levels throughout the summer and fall, but the bills passed this week will provide a likely baseline.

Join the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition.


Quotes from Capitol Hill:

From the June 25, 2015, Senate Appropriations Committee hearing:

"[This amendment] provides additional resources to protect Americans and ensure their safety. For example, it would add 10 million dollars to lead hazard reduction. This has been a curse, particularly in low-income, older neighborhoods, and we have them all across the county. And once a child is infected by lead, that child's cognitive ability, that child's ability to succeed in school and to contribute to this community, is devastated. And it’s completely avoidable. You simply have to get the lead out."

‎        –Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Ranking Member, HUD appropriations subcommittee


"I do want to address just one point, specific point that the senator made, and that has to do with lead hazards, which we have worked on for years. For 18 years we've worked on this, we've had hearings in our home states, and I would say that, first of all, the House bill slashed this program to only 75 million. We have funded it at 110 million dollars, which is the same level as last year. So I don't want anyone to leave this room under this mistaken impression that we had slashed the program for lead hazard removal out of old housing stock, because that just would be inaccurate. "

‎       –Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Chair, HUD appropriations subcommittee


"This bill would be better if we had a bipartisan agreement to lift the onerous sequester funding levels and with the resources in the amendment Ranking Member Reed will offer. His amendment would allow us to meet more of our country's infrastructure and community needs by providing $3.9 billion for aviation and rail safety, housing, lead paint abatement, and transportation infrastructure."

‎      –Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Vice-Chair, HUD appropriations committee

Tell Congress: No More Cuts to Lead Poisoning Prevention!

“When my son was poisoned by lead, I had to act. But how?”

This was the question posed by Thomas Beller, a New Orleans resident and father whose story of lead poisoning was published yesterday in a New York Times op-ed. Despite Beller’s efforts to avoid his child’s exposure to lead, his son was poisoned by remodeling on his neighbor’s home. Through rapid intervention – received only because his son had routine blood lead screening at age one – his son has since reduced his blood lead levels. Yet like millions of other parents of lead-poisoned children, Thomas is left with the difficult question: What is my next step?

Millions of children living in urban areas of the United States are at a disproportionally higher risk of being lead poisoned. An article in The Washington Post last week identifies lead poisoning as one of the most ignored factors affecting the educational outcomes of poor children.

With blood lead levels playing such a major role in the development and well-being of children, the job of addressing this issue must not be left only to those who are affected by it. Yet Congress has failed to prioritize this issue: Just last week, the House of Representatives cut the HUD’s Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes’ funding by 31%.

The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC’s) Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention could potentially face similar cuts; the House will release its proposed CDC funding levels tomorrow.

Let’s hope the House is not as short-sighted in its CDC funding as it was with its HUD funding and restores funding for the Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program to $29 million – or, at a bare minimum, retains the current $15 million funding level. This program provides surveillance for lead-poisoned kids and education to families so that perhaps other parents like Beller can help their kids in time, and so that communities can find the homes making children sick and repair them to be lead-safe.  

Tell your members of Congress that funding levels for these programs cannot be cut further. We must end the scourge of lead poisoning once and for all – and help those kids who have already been poisoned. If you haven’t yet, sign the letter to Congress demanding full funding – and email it to five of your colleagues today!

Reasonable Accommodations and Housing Code Compliance

Ideally, a landlord who gets a complaint from a tenant about cockroaches, mice, water damage, or mold in a building will promptly assess the complaint and, if it is confirmed, fix the problem and eliminate its cause. If the landlord is slow to act, the tenant may complain to the local housing code official, who, if the problem is confirmed, would order the necessary corrections. If the landlord still does not act, the code official may take the case to court. In some communities, the tenant could go to a special housing court to demand fixes.

Unfortunately, life is not always ideal. Code violations linger as the enforcement process drags out. Tenants become frustrated as they frequently feel forgotten or even blamed for the dangerous conditions that make their own homes a real threat to their health, safety, and welfare.
 
For tenants with asthma, the threats are not only real but significant. The presence of pests or dampness can worsen their asthma and increase their risk of an asthma attack that can diminish their health, disrupt their success at school or work, and even endanger their lives. Nine people die of asthma every day in the U.S., and, though the underlying causes are myriad and complex, asthma triggers such as cockroaches, mice, water damage, and mold may be contributing factors and are usually preventable.
  
Some tenants with asthma – and their landlords – may not understand their rights and responsibilities under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Because asthma is a disability under the ADA and FHA if it substantially limits a major life activity, the tenant experiencing those effects is entitled to reasonable accommodations. When the definition of a disability under the ADA was expanded in 2008, asthma was specifically identified as an example because it physically impairs the respiratory system. Though more may well be required, complying with the housing code is certainly a reasonable accommodation to help prevent unnecessary exposure to asthma triggers like pests, mold, and dampness.

The ADA and FHA apply to housing that is subsidized by the federal, state, or local government. In private housing, such as market-rate rentals, the FHA and state fair housing laws require reasonable accommodations for disabilities like asthma and, unlike most housing codes, protect the tenant from retaliation by the landlord for making a complaint.

Unlike many housing codes, the FHA protects tenants from retaliation by their landlords for seeking a reasonable accommodations or filing complaints. Everything hinges on a tenant making a request for accommodation. This means the tenant must inform his/her landlord that someone in the unit (an adult whose name appears on the lease or one of his/her dependents) has asthma and requests a reasonable accommodation. While it’s acceptable under the law to verbally communicate the request to the landlord, it will help a tenant’s case to put the request in writing and provide a doctor’s letter. It is advisable to have a doctor document the diagnosis of asthma and, based on a photo or their understanding of the apartment conditions, affirm that the presence of pests, dampness, or mold can worsen asthma.

If the landlord does not respond quickly enough, or the tenant is not satisfied with the accommodation provided, he or she can file a “Section 504 complaint.” While there may be a local option, the person may file the complaint directly with HUD, and the agency will route it to the proper authority. HUD’s website has options for filing in seven languages, including Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese. No lawyers need to be involved, although they are not prohibited from participating in the process. Importantly, the FHA requires any person providing housing to accommodate disabilities, even if the landlord is a private party without any federal funding.

HUD has 10 days to acknowledge receipt. Within 20 days of acknowledging receipt, HUD must accept, reject, or refer the complaint. Referral may be to another agency. If HUD accepted the complaint, the landlord has 30 days to respond. HUD will strive for a voluntary resolution but is responsible for ensuring that the landlord follows the law.

If the housing problems are pervasive and persistent within a building or development, tenants can go to court to enforce the law. For example, in December 2013, the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) tenants and two community advocacy organizations, Manhattan Together and South Bronx Churches, represented by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ), filed a class action lawsuit against the housing authority. Click here for a sample request for accommodation from a tenant to NYCHA. Click here for a NYCHA-specific checklist (delveloped by NRDC and NCLEJ) to help make a request for accommodation. Note that other housing authorities may have different requirements.

NYCHA and the plaintiffs negotiated a court order designed to address water and dampness problems in a systematic manner that protected all residents. NYCHA has to:
  • Revise its policies, practices, and procedures.
  • Provide plaintiffs with detailed quarterly and annual progress reports.
  • Conduct random audits of its work orders to ensure that 95% of problems were resolved in a timely manner.
  • Abate flooding in 24 hours, with wet material dried in 48 hours.
  • Complete repairs that could be fixed in a single visit within seven days and complete complex repairs within 15 days, on average.
This type of large-scale litigation is a last resort when tenants do not get a satisfactory resolution through their requests for accommodation or appeals to code officials or the housing court. A wise landlord recognizes that complying with his/her obligations to accommodate tenants with asthma prevents major maintenance problems later on and results in healthier and happier tenants as well as lower maintenance costs. Landlords should understand that their responsibilities to address resident complaints in a timely manner and prioritize pest and dampness problems posing a threat to residents with asthma

New Senate Bill Would Weaken Existing Protections from Unscrupulous Overseas Suppliers, Putting Public and U.S. Manufacturers at Risk

Senate Bill 697 as introduced in March 2015 to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) contains a provision that threatens the public’s health by weakening protections that are currently in place.

Strong public health standards are important, but they mean little without an effective program to ensure compliance. Worse, they put firms that play by the rules at a competitive disadvantage. When it comes to hazards that are difficult to recognize, such as water damage, lead-based paint, food contaminants, and chemical risks, the firm that cuts corners, whether a landlord, a painting contractor, or a retailer, has an unfair edge in the marketplace. Unfortunately, all too often, the health of the most vulnerable among us suffer the consequences.

Congress made compliance assurance a top priority when it added Title VI to the TSCA in 2010 to federalize California’s strict standards for formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products. The industry leaders and public health advocates (including NCHH) who convinced Congress to act knew that California lacked the tools to regulate imports effectively. They saw that, while TSCA was too weak to set strong public health standards, the law provided the means both to ensure compliance and to provide a level playing field for U.S. manufacturers. Violators were subject to civil and criminal punishment under sections 16 and 17. Citizens, states, and competitors could enforce the law under Section 20 if the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) didn’t. And, just as importantly, rules adopted pursuant to Section 13 of TSCA require that importers had to certify—essentially guarantee—that the products they imported complied with the law.
 
This import certification provided the means for the agency and the public to hold the importer responsible, leveraging the firm’s cooperation in an investigation of the supply chain to expose the culprit. It also provided a strong incentive for the importer to be vigilant in selecting trustworthy suppliers and verifying compliance using the finished product enforcement testing method incorporated into California’s formaldehyde regulation.

The wisdom of this approach became clear in March when CBS’s 60 Minutes used California’s enforcement test method to show that laminated flooring imported from China by Lumber Liquidators did not comply with the state’s standards. The 60 Minutes research went beyond those deconstructive tests and demonstrated that the sample flooring exceeded California’s health standards for formaldehyde in a typical home setting using another test method developed by the California Department of Public Health.

Unfortunately, EPA did not meet the January 1, 2013, congressional deadline for the agency to promulgate the rules. The agency does not expect to finalize the rules until the end of 2015, and they would not go into effect until late 2016. Without final rules, Lumber Liquidators was under no obligation to make an import certification under TSCA Section 13.

An additional problem arose when senators Tom Udall (D, NM) and David Vitter (R, LA) introduced S. 697 (the "Udall-Vitter Reform Bill") in March 2015. Unless changes are made in the final version, the bill would render TSCA Section 13 a paper tiger. Instead of guaranteeing compliance, importers would only need to a make a “reasonable inquiry” and certify compliance to their “best knowledge and belief” (proposed TSCA Section 13(b)(2)). For articles like flooring, a “reasonable inquiry” consists of a “good faith reliance by an importer on a certification by the supplier that the imported article satisfies the applicable certification requirements” (proposed TSCA Section 13(b)(3)(B)). The proposed import certification provision would make it much more difficult for EPA to ensure that imported products comply with the law and that U.S. manufacturers share equal footing.
 
The best solution is to strengthen TSCA without weakening Section 13.

NCHH Takes to the Hill

Last Tuesday, March 17, a small but mighty group, led by Julie Kruse, NCHH's Director of Policy, visited 22 congressional offices in Washington, DC, to recommend full funding in fiscal year (FY) 2016 for three crucially important federal programs. Due to governmental belt-tightening over the last several years, funding to these programs was cut drastically; and while some of the funding has been partially restored, there is still much work for these programs to do, and every dollar is important.

NCHH is asking for the CDC's Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program to receive $29,257,000 (up from $15,222,000 in FY15), CDC’s National Asthma Control Program to receive $30,596,000 (up from $27,528,000 in FY15), and HUD’s Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes to receive $120,000,000, up from $110 million in FY15. A recent history of appropriations for these programs is available here.

Seventeen attendees, hailing from seven target states (North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Washington, and Maryland), joined Ms. Kruse, Acting Director Jonathan Wilson, and Michael McKnight from the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative on Capitol Hill to present to senators and representatives in all six congressional office buildings. Their purpose was to educate members of Congress who will soon make critical funding decisions on the importance and impact of lead poisoning prevention, lead hazard control, and healthy homes programs for their constituents’ respective states and districts. Parents whose children were impacted by lead hazards in the home, children’s health advocates, and public health and healthy housing practitioners all joined Ms. Kruse and Mr. Wilson to share their stories.

Omar Bah told senators Jack Reed (D, RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D, RI) and representatives David Cicilline (D, RI-1) and James Langevin (D, RI-2) how a HUD-funded remediation grant from the City of Providence made it possible for him and his wife to afford the necessary improvements to the home that saved his family from lead poisoning. Mr. Bah is an African refugee who came to the U.S. in 2007 with his wife, Teddi, to start a new life. They bought an older home in Rhode Island that they suspected might be a lead hazard, but all of their savings had gone toward their house purchase.

Liz Haverington Silvia of Newport, Rhode Island, also met with congressmen Reed, Whitehouse, Langevin, and Cicilline. She explained how her state’s required blood screening process detected lead in her little boy’s system, the result of her DIY renovation project that was not performed properly—because she didn’t realize that lead was present, something that happens more often than anyone would like to admit. Liz was thankful that the state-mandated screening caught the problem so early, as her son does not appear to suffer any long-term consequences of his lead exposure. She also described the forgivable loan, courtesy of her state and local lead programs, that financed the essential repairs to her home, making it lead-safe after nearly 90 years.

Chris Corcoran, a project manager at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, spoke to Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro’s (R, CT-3) office about how his organization and their clients benefit from government money and what they could accomplish with additional funding.

Also in attendance at the meetings was Ms. Lenora Smith from the Partnership Effort for the Advancement of Children’s Health (PEACH), out of Durham, North Carolina. Ms. Smith, supported by her associate, Lawrence Little, artist Damita Hicks, retired social worker and community advocate Dianne Brown, code enforcement officer and chief precinct judge Lester Smith, and Michael McKnight from the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, spoke to Representative David Price (D, NC-4) about how additional funding would bolster Durham Mayor William V. Bell’s Poverty Reduction Initiative. Ms. Smith specifically referenced Census Tract 10.01, an area of Durham, North Carolina, which is predominantly occupied by African Americans (66.2%) and Latinos (24.3%), in which 61% of residents reported income below poverty level, and in which the average year of construction was 1933. The majority of homes in Census Tract 10.01 require what HUD would consider “major repairs.” The largest population within the census tract are kids below the age of six (approximately 10%); this demographic is the one most likely to suffer from lead poisoning and is at risk for several other home hazards.

Betty Cantley with her sons, circa 1994. Jason Cantley is sitting in the baby seat.Betty Cantley of Cleveland, Ohio, had a very different tale to tell: Her son, Jason, was poisoned as an infant and suffered permanent injury, the result of a contractor renovation that failed to meet lead safety requirements. “[W]hen he started breathing it in,” she told Representative Tim Ryan (D, OH-13), “he was less than a month old; his brain was developing, and his synapses were forming. It was the most crucial point of his life.” Betty’s compelling story described the struggles of a family faced with the news that their son was needlessly poisoned, how they coped, and how essential programs at all governmental levels helped her boy to graduate from high school and become a productive member of society.

These stories from the field illustrate how important it is that government funding to these programs not only stays intact but is fully restored or, better, increased.

Ultimately, the NCHH cadre met with six members of Congress directly, five supportive Republican offices that are new to the issue, and the leading Democrats on the health and housing funding subcommittees in the House and Senate and on the full Senate appropriations committee. We received commitments from the subcommittee leads to fight for full funding. Four representatives NCHH met with added their signature to the House funding letter; in total, 24 representatives signed, which was five more than last year. The Senate funding letter is still open as of this writing and currently has 16 signatures, four of whom met with NCHH’s group.

All in all, it was a very productive St. Patrick's Day!

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