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Democrats Add Eliminating Lead Poisoning to Party Platform



On July 9, 2016, history was made: A major U.S. political party added the words "we must make it a national priority to eradicate lead poisoning" to its platform. Never in the history of American politics has a major party called for the elimination of lead poisoning explicitly as a portion of its platform.

That finally changed late Saturday night as the Democratic Platform Committee approved Amendment 176 to add the following language to their platform:

"Democrats believe we must make it a national priority to eradicate lead poisoning which disproportionately impacts low-income children and children of color and can lead to lifelong health and educational challenges, as a public health threat. We will prioritize hiring and training workers from affected communities to clean up toxic brownfields and expand clean energy, energy efficiency, and resilient infrastructure."

As a nonpartisan organization, NCHH hopes that all of the political parties will recognize the importance of this provision and add it to their respective platforms. The health, safety, and well-being of America’s children is important to all Americans.

Kudos to platform committee members Mara Keisling and Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), for promoting and offering this amendment. 

Watch a video of the amendment's introduction by Mara Keisling and its subsequent approval here.

Taking Action: HUD's Lead Poisoning Prevention Announcement – June 13, 2016

Today, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro issued welcome news about lead poisoning prevention, continuing the department’s leading role. He announced a series of HUD lead poisoning prevention initiatives as part of a "Lead-Safe Housing, Lead-Free Kids" toolkit. His goal that every child in this great nation must be safe from lead poisoning is exactly the right one. His announcement of additional funding to help local jurisdictions create lead-safe homes is also welcome news; those funds will enable thousands of children to live in lead-safe homes for decades to come

The announced initiatives track closely with many of the goals of the "Find It, Fix it, Fund It Lead Elimination Action Drive" (#findfixfund) launched last month by the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) and the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition (Coalition). Indeed, Secretary Castro's announced toolkit addresses:

  • Finding lead hazards: improving lead paint hazard assessments and identifying water hazards in HUD-assisted housing, as well as identifying hazards in private-sector housing;
  • Fixing: updating standards to match recent science and better protect children; developing mechanisms and guidance to address lead hazards in public and assisted housing more quickly and effectively; and providing millions of dollars in grants for lead-hazard control in privately owned low-income housing, where the risks are greatest;
  • Funding: calling on philanthropic partners to join the effort to eliminate lead poisoning.
The announced initiatives include urgently needed actions, such as anticipated regulatory changes to HUD's Lead-Safe Housing Rule, to align the blood lead level requiring response in assisted housing to the CDC reference level, lowering it to 5 μg/dL (micrograms per deciliter). These rule changes are currently being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and we call for quick release to ensure children are protected. In the meantime, we urge local housing and health agencies to adopt the CDC level; nothing in the current regulation prevents local authorities from taking such action.

Secretary Castro also announced efforts to carry out more validated lead risk assessments in federally assisted housing. We hope that the initiatives announced will result quickly in lead risk assessments being required in all federally assisted housing including pre-1978 Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program homes in which children under six reside or are expected to reside. Currently, only visual assessments are required in the voucher units, which cannot measure the presence of lead dust hazards. We urge Congress to provide needed direction and funding so that HUD can implement these protections for children.

The toolkit also includes development of a consistent standard for and response to water quality issues. We appreciate this initiative and encourage HUD to carry out testing water for lead, a relatively inexpensive procedure, as part of HUD inspections and assessments and to coordinate this testing with local health and water authorities.

We encourage HUD to build on the critical steps announced today by updating the nation's Healthy Homes Survey, which estimates the number of houses at risk for both lead and other housing-related diseases and injuries. Furthermore, we call for the creation of a plan to identify specific locations of both lead-based paint and lead pipes in all the nation's housing stock, so that we know where the lead hazards are. This would supplement CDC's efforts to provide GIS mapping of elevated blood lead levels called for by the Senate appropriations committee last week in its report language for the health appropriations bill.  

In addition to addressing public housing, Castro's announcement includes efforts to remediate lead hazards in low-income private sector housing where the risks are greatest. He announced $46.5 million in new lead hazard control grants to 15 state and local jurisdictions, with millions more to follow in the coming months.

In a very positive step, the toolkit encourages interagency collaboration with CDC and EPA on lead poisoning prevention. The Coalition and NCHH strongly support this and urge the Administration to convene a cabinet-level interagency task force to develop and implement a plan to eliminate lead poisoning. One us (Jacobs) participated in the prior such presidential task force in 2000, but Congress didn't provide adequate funding to carry out the plan and met the goal of eliminating lead poisoning. The plan and funding numbers need to be updated, and we must commit ourselves as a nation to provide the resources to get the job done. The savings will be enormous‎ – HUD's lead hazard control program is estimated to have a return on investment of at least $17 per dollar spent.

Indeed, both Secretary Castro and I would be the first to acknowledge that the goal of protecting all children from lead poisoning will not be achieved at current funding levels. That is why the NCHH and the Coalition and others have been working with Congress to increase funding. And we have had some success. Committees in Congress have provided for an increase in $50 million for HUD’s lead poisoning prevention efforts in both public and private housing. The Coalition has requested that HUD’s program be increased from $110 million last year to at least $230 million – a funding level drawn from the interagency plan on lead developed 15 years ago. There is simply no excuse to permit this problem to continue for even more decades into the future; we know how to solve it, and we should act on what we know. We need to #findfixfund: Find exactly where the lead hazards are, fix them using both short- and long-term proven methods, and obtain the funding to make it a reality.
 
Finally, the Secretary’s call means that all of us must do more. That means the private sector should contribute to the solution, as should philanthropy. We need real partnerships with housing, medical, public health, financing, community development, environmental, construction, inspection, and other allied professions – and, of course, parents and community groups. All of us can and must redouble our efforts to end this entirely preventable disease.

If you're attending the National Environmental Health Association/HUD conference in San Antonio this week, we encourage you to join our "Find It, Fix It, Fund It" meeting Tuesday, June 14, 2016, at 4:50 p.m. in conference room 11, where we'll work together on a plan to eliminate lead poisoning.

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! 

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