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NCHH and Coalition Campaign on Capitol Hill

As African refugees who immigrated to Rhode Island in 2007 to start a new life, Teddi Jallow and her husband were excited and proud when they were able to become homeowners and achieve a piece of the American dream; but she was also worried about the safety of young family they were starting. They’d invested all of their savings in an older home in Rhode Island, one that they now suspected might contain lead hazards, and had no funds left over to correct the hazard. Thankfully, the City of Providence’s HUD-funded lead remediation grant program enabled this vulnerable family to address potential lead hazards proactively and protect their children’s health.

Ms. Jallow shared her story with members of Congress on February 10, when National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition (Coalition) members and National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) staff took to Capitol Hill for a full day of meetings with senators and representatives to highlight the vital need for full funding for lead poisoning prevention, lead hazard control, and healthy homes, particularly in the wake of the Flint water crisis. Ms. Jallow met with Senator Jack Reed (D, RI), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D, RI), and Representative David Cicilline (D, RI-1) to explained how a HUD-funded remediation grant from the City of Providence made it possible for her family to afford the necessary home improvements that have kept her children lead-free.

Betty and James Cantley of Cleveland, Ohio, had a very different tale to tell. Their son, Jason,
Betty Cantley with her sons, circa 1994. Jason Cantley is sitting in the baby seat.suffered permanent injury from lead dust exposure as an infant, the result of a contractor renovation that failed to meet lead safety requirements. The Cantleys described their family’s continuing journey with lead poisoning. “[When Jason] started breathing it in,” Betty told the members and their staff, “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 and James’ compelling story describes the struggles of a family faced with the news that their son was needlessly exposed to dangerous levels of lead dust, how they coped, how essential programs at all governmental levels helped their boy to graduate from high school, and how Jason has become a productive member of society despite facing daily challenges stemming from his early lead exposure.

The Cantleys and Ms. Jallow were among the 27 attendees, hailing from 12 target states and the District of Columbia, who joined NCHH Executive Director Nancy Rockett Eldridge, Director of Policy Julie Kruse, Director of Research Jonathan Wilson, and Project Manager Laura Fudala on Capitol Hill to present to over 80 senators and representatives, more than doubling the number of offices visited in 2015—itself a highly successful campaign. Their purpose was to share their personal stories and educate members of Congress on the importance and impact of lead poisoning prevention, lead hazard control, and healthy homes programs for their constituents’ respective states and districts as the members soon consider and make critical funding decisions.

Members of Congress from both parties were strongly supportive of the Coalition’s requests to increase funding to expand CDC’s lead poisoning surveillance, prevention, and healthy homes activities nationwide. Funding at $35 million for CDC’s Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program would support lead poisoning surveillance activities in all 50 states and greatly enhance abilities to identify and respond quickly to future lead poisoning outbreaks.

Further, families of children with elevated blood lead levels, representatives of housing and health agencies, and concerned advocates demanded that Congress take a proactive approach for primary prevention, calling for $230 million annually over 10 years for HUD’s Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes. This amount was recommended by the President's Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children in its Federal Strategy Targeting Lead Paint Hazards to ensure that lead hazards are identified and controlled in low-income homes.

Due to governmental belt-tightening over the last several years, funding to these HUD and CDC programs was cut drastically. Some of the funding has been partially restored, and Coalition members thanked Congress for increasing lead poisoning prevention, healthy homes, and asthma control by $3 million last year. By sharing local stories, attendees pointed to the benefits and cost savings of prevention. Lead poisoning is a preventable tragedy, said Coalition members, as they urged Congress to restore full funding to stop the harm to America’s children. Other highlights of the day included:

  • Lenora Smith and other representatives from the Partnership Effort for the Advancement of Children’s Health (PEACH) of Durham, North Carolina, met for an hour with Representative David Price (D, NC-4) to update him on home health hazards in his district. They also thanked Representative Price for offering two amendments to increase healthy homes and lead hazard control funding, and for discussing PEACH’s efforts in Durham combating lead poisoning at a hearing last year.
  • Other attendees described the prevention and hazard control services in their homes states that have helped promote health, elevate their communities, and protect families.
  • Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D, NY-25) and her staff hosted a breakfast orientation to launch the day, and attendees appreciated the opportunity to thank her for her long-time championing of healthy homes issues in Congress.
  • Attendees from Rhode Island and New Hampshire also thanked Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Representative David Cicilline (D, RI-1) for leading sign-on letters, and Representative Slaughter for increased funding for lead poisoning prevention and healthy homes. Mainers also expressed gratitude to Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) for her long-standing support for ending lead poisoning, and her supportive comments at a hearing last year.

Results from the Coalition’s Hill visit were immediately apparent in the large increase of signatories to this year’s congressional sign-on letters:

  • 75 representatives signed on to Representative Slaughter and Representative Cicilline’s letter to increase funding for lead poisoning prevention and healthy homes (51 more than last year).
  • 24 senators signed on to Senator Reed’s and/or Senator Shaheen’s letters to increase funding for lead poisoning prevention and healthy homes (5 more than last year).

NCHH and the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition wish to thank the Childhood Lead Action Project, the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, Habitat for Humanity International, and Rebuilding Together for helping to staff this successful day! 

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!

Sign Our Congressional Funding Letter Today!


Just under two weeks ago, I posted in this space, and asked all of you to sign on to a letter to Congress and  to call your representative to press for funding for lead poisoning prevention, lead hazard control, and healthy homes programs at HUD and CDC. Thanks to those of you who did - we got a record number of sign-ons in the House of Representatives!

We held a terrific Healthy Homes Capitol Hill Day on Tuesday, March 17, with attendees from key states meeting with leaders of the health and housing appropriations subcommittees. Over one-quarter of our meetings were with the senators and representatives themselves, and many of them made a pledge to fight for these critically important programs. (More on this soon!) We hope you can join us on the hill in future years!

But the battle is not yet won until the funding is actually approved. That's why I'm asking you to ACT AGAIN to call your senators and request their support for similar letters circulating there. Signatures are due TODAY, so we need you to call ASAP!

Please follow these two steps now to ensure healthy homes and lead hazard control/poisoning prevention programs continue!

STEP 1: If you haven't yet, sign your organization to the letter to Congress for HUD and CDC funding. And please forward this email to your networks!

STEP 2: Call your senators!

  1. Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202.224.3121 and ask to be connected to one of your senators. If you don't know your senators' names, they can tell you who they are.
  2. Ask to speak with the staff person who handles the health or housing issues for the office.
  3. When you reach the staffer, or leave a message, or speak to the receptionist if the staffer is not available, tell him or her:

    •  My name is __________________.  I'm from __________________ [your city and state].
    • I'm calling to urge the senator to sign on to letters from Senator Jack Reed in support of lead poisoning prevention and healthy homes. The sign-on letter deadline is March 25.
    • These funds will ensure the protection of over 500,000 lead-poisoned children who need CDC- and HUD-funded services.
    • Thank you!
 4.  Now, call your other senator. Follow the first three steps again, simply asking for your other senator.


I can't stress enough the importance of your help on this. It's only with your help that we can win this budget battle.

What Lead Poisoning Did to My Family - Part II

While lead poisoning is something my son Sean will live with for the rest of his life, the outcome could have been much worse had the local and state health departments not had the resources to help us. Without federal funding for both of these agencies, Sean would never have been tested for lead by a WIC nurse. Our home would not have been tested for lead-based paint in time to save us from an environmental hazard. There would not have been any nurse-related check ups and blood work schedules in place. We would not have been directed to AEA 267 to oversee my son’s education.

To put it simply, we might never have known that Sean was lead poisoned. Or worse, we might have lost him. We will forever be thankful to Mike Prideaux, the Black Hawk County Health Department Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, and Rita Gergely, Iowa Department of Public Health who have been a huge part of our lives over these past nine years.

 

Congress Delivers Lump of Lead - CDC Lead Poisoning Prevention Program Gutted

A recent op-ed highlighted the importance of partnerships between health care and housing. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Assistant Secretary, Raphael Bostic and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) President Risa Lavizzo-Mourey state that “housing policy is health policy” and “preventing disease is cheaper than treating illness.” We couldn’t agree more.

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