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Feds approve $16.2M for lead abatement

Wisconsin officials have received federal approval for a plan to spend more than $16 million on projects meant to protect children and pregnant women from the dangers of lead poisoning.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services announced Thursday it had received approval for its plan to spend $16.2 million on removing lead paint and dust, replacing faucets and cleaning up soil. This work will be carried out in the homes of low-income children and pregnant women enrolled in BadgerCare Plus and Medicaid, both of which help people afford medical care.

In the state’s current budget, Gov. Tony Evers had proposed setting aside $14.2 million for lead testing and abatement and $2 million for a Lead-Safe Homes Program. The federal approval on Thursday, from the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services, means state officials can now carry out those plans.

“This is a great step toward my goal to ‘get the lead out’ of Wisconsin homes so that our families, and most of all our kids, don’t have to worry about lead poisoning and the long term health and learning affects that come with it,” Evers said.

Wisconsin’s troubles with lead don’t stop at paint and dust. In the state’s biggest city, Milwaukee, there are about 75,000 lead lines — 70,000 of which are connected to residences. Replacing them will cost more than $750 million. This year, city officials set aside $12.5 million for lead replacements, or enough for about 1,000 lines.

Last month, two Milwaukee Democratic lawmakers began seeking sponsors for a bill that would set aside $40 million to replace lead service lines. The proposal is similar to one that Gov. Tony Evers had included in his initial draft of the state budget proposal only to see it removed from the plan by Republican lawmakers this spring. The Evers administration had previously said putting $40 million toward replacing water lines could help eliminate about 9% of the 170,000 lead service lines now in use in the state.

Children suffering from lead poisoning have been found in every county in Wisconsin. In 2016, of those tested, more than 4,000 Wisconsin under six were deemed to have lead poisoning. Lead can interfere with brain development.

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