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Utah Senator Last Remaining Holdout Blocking Flint Relief Package

The bill would authorize matching grants for water improvement projects to replace aging pipes.

The number of US Senators blocking aid to the residents of Flint, Mich. and communities that might be afflicted by lead-contaminated drinking water shrunk to one on Tuesday.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is now the last lawmaker standing in the way of the $250 million assistance program receiving a vote on the floor of the Senate.

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) dropped his hold on the legislation Tuesday, The Hill reported. Presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had also temporarily thwarted the bill, but backed off his obstructionism last month.

Senators are hoping to move the measure forward by unanimous consent – a procedure that only takes one lawmaker to impede.

Lee still maintains that the relief deal amounts to “political grandstanding.”

He claimed last week that Michigan already has “an enormous budget surplus” and “all the government resources they need to fix the problem.” Lee also alleged that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) hasn’t asked the federal government for help.

“What’s really happening here is that Washington politicians are using the crisis in Flint as an excuse to funnel taxpayer money to their own home states,” he claimed in a statement.

Gov. Snyder, however, has requested more relief from the federal government than it has offered to date. Snyder called on the President Obama to declare a major disaster in Flint, which would have freed up more than $700 million in aid. The president instead declared a state of emergency, which triggered the release of substantially fewer federal dollars.

The situation in Flint is still far from resolved, more than two months after Snyder declared a state of emergency in the city. The country health department reported that more than 600 homes still have dangerous levels of lead in their water systems. Although the state has promised to supply $58 million to assist residents dealing with the crisis, the money doesn’t include necessary infrastructure upgrades to replace corroded pipes in Flint. Karen Weaver, Flint’s mayor, said the replacement of the pipes should cost $55 million alone.

The legislation being held up in the Senate would provide $100 million in grants to any state that “receives an emergency declaration” related to contaminants in its public drinking water. So far, the designation only applies to Flint, but is intended to address municipalities that may encounter similar problems in the future.

The bill would authorize matching grants for water improvement projects to replace aging pipes and systems, including those in Flint. And it included funding to monitor health effects related to lead contamination.

The bipartisan measure was unveiled last month in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee by Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.).

“It’s outrageous to think we’re grandstanding,” Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), a supporter of the bill, told reporters Tuesday. “I would just encourage Sen. Lee to go to Flint and talk directly to the people who are living on bottled water.”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), another supporter of the package, did express optimism that a deal could be brokered with Lee.

“We’ve possibly found a path forward,” she said Tuesday.

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