Biden administration sends $500 million to states to protect families from lead exposure

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Black children and families are more likely than white families to suffer from the effects of lead poisoning.

The White House announced on Friday that as part of the Biden-Harris Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will be making $500 million available to local and state governments to fund projects that will protect children and families from lead-based paint and other threats to health in the home.

"President Biden and Vice President Harris believe no child, no family, and no American should drink water with lead or be exposed to lead paint in their homes," the White House said in a statement. "Together, their leadership, vision, and actions are removing lead from water and homes, creating good-paying jobs, and supporting the low-income and communities of color disproportionately impacted."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood exposure to lead can cause severe problems. These include brain damage, damage to the nervous system, behavior and learning problems, speech issues, hearing problems, as well as slowed growth and development.

The use of lead paint was banned for consumers in 1978, but many older homes still contain this potentially dangerous material. CDC has said that as of 2020 more than 3.6 million American families continued to be at risk from lead-contaminated paint.

These risks are even higher for Black communities. Lead poisoning has had a disproportionately high effect on Black children due to racist policies like redlining, which frequently consigned minority communities to neighborhoods that were also more likely to contain pollutants like lead.

A 2013 CDC study showed that Black children had an average level of lead in their blood systems that was twice as high as the average found in white children.

Communities like Flint, Michigan, where the water supply was contaminated with lead, are examples of this disparity. Flint’s population is 54% Black.

In its announcement on HUD's action, the administration noted that the funds from HUD will be targeted to disadvantaged communities based on the "Justice 40 Initiative" launched by President Joe Biden.

Biden announced Justice 40 in his first weeks in office in 2021, with the goal of directing at least 40% of federal investments in efforts to fight climate change and promote clean energy in historically disadvantaged communities.

The lead paint announcement follows other recent administration actions focused on threats from lead. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law by Biden provided $2.9 billion for lead pipe replacement that is being disbursed around the country to state and tribal governments.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also giving states guidance on directing that money toward disadvantaged communities as well.

In contrast to Biden's actions, the administration of former President Donald Trump was unable to get Congress to pass infrastructure legislation even though both the House and Senate were under Republican control until the 2018 election.

Also under Trump, the EPA deviated from federal rules implemented by former President Barack Obama that sought to replace lead pipes within 13 years. The Trump-era EPA instead sought to slow the pace to 33 years, leaving more families vulnerable to lead poisoning.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.