In a very tight federal budget environment, the Senate took a positive step forward toward preventing lead poisoning and combating youth homelessness today.

H.R. 2577, the 2016 Transportation and Housing & Urban Development Appropriations Act (T-HUD), passed by a vote of 89-8, an effort led by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Jack Reed, D-R.I. We appreciate the efforts of the chairwoman and ranking member working closely together to address these two very critical issues for kids in America.

Lead-Based Paint Hazards

It’s well-known that lead-based paint is highly toxic to young children and can cause a range of health problems. Unfortunately, we’ve been dealing with lead paint hazards for far too long. Both inside and outside the home, deteriorated lead-based paint eventually mixes with household dust and soil, and can eventually become ingested by children.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), children can become lead poisoned by:

  • Putting their hands or other lead-contaminated objects into their mouths
  • Eating paint chips with peeling or flaking lead-based paint
  • Playing in lead-contaminated soil

And the truth is, low-income children and families in poverty are disproportionately affected by household lead-based paint poisoning. Many older homes and properties – now more affordable – pre-dating 1978, contain lead-based paint.

Lead poses incredibly serious risks to young children’s development. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), when lead is absorbed by young children it causes damage to the brain and other vital organs, nerves, and blood. Lead poisoning is associated with mild to severe behavioral problems, learning disabilities, and seizures in death in extreme cases.

That’s why it’s critically important that the H.R. 2577 provides $135 million for the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes’ grants, $25 million more than funding for Fiscal Year 2016. This funding will be used to provide “lead-based paint hazard reduction” in more than 1,750 housing units, potentially improving the health outcomes of children in 6,200 low- and very-low income families.

The bill also provides an additional $25 million to public housing agencies to address lead-based paint hazards in public housing. The funding allows agencies to conduct lead-paint abatement, interim controls, and risk assessments in units where children 6 and younger are reside.

Lawmakers also make an important new distinction in the type of housing that qualifies for lead-based paint abatement and mitigation. “Zero-bedroom dwellings” are now eligible for grants – these include studios and efficiency apartments. We think this is a common-sense change that was needed long ago.

We’re also pleased the Senate has given HUD additional capacity to carry out and enforce lead-based paint regulations in Section 8 and 9 properties. H.R. 2577 doubles the staffing for the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes’ Enforcement Division.

Also of critical importance to children’s health, the Senate bill requires HUD to align its blood lead-level standard with the CDC’s standards. Under current HUD regulation, intervention in homes is not required until a child’s blood lead level is 20 micrograms per deciliter, or 15-19 micrograms per deciliter, in two tests taken over three months. This is three to four times higher than the current blood level reference value of five micrograms per deciliter set by the CDC!

Youth Homelessness

It’s disheartening that the number of runaway and homeless youth in the U.S. is growing. National estimates have found that 1.3 to 1.7 million youth experience one night of homelessness a year, with 550,000 youth being homeless for a week or longer.

Addressing homeless youth needs is critical to the future of the nation. According to the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, two-thirds of adults experiencing homelessness never received a high school diploma or completed a GED.

Children and youth make up a large percentage of the homeless population in the United States, and they’re all incredibly vulnerable. That’s why we’re pleased to see the Senate’s T-HUD bill provides $40 million in federal resources to address youth homelessness, building on new investments funded for the first time in fiscal year 2016. This funding will allow Continuum of Care grantees to develop and evaluate new housing and supportive services interventions for youth experiencing homelessness.  The spending bill also provides $20 million to support more than 2,500 new family unification vouchers to prevent youth from becoming homeless after exiting foster care.

H.R. 2577 also extends HUD’s participation in the Performance Partnership Pilot (P3) with the Departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Justice. P3 is designed to help improve outcomes for disconnected youth by giving states and communities additional flexibility in using discretionary funds across multiple federal agencies. The programs can focus on education, employment, health, and criminal justice, and include a plan to track performance.

Importantly, this bill also includes report language that waives the requirement for youth 24 and under to provide third-party documentation on eligibility to receive housing and supportive services within the Continuum of Care. This addresses the ongoing problem that service providers are turning away homeless youth due to a lack of clarity on HUD’s eligibility and documentation requirements for programs.

Get involved

In the wake of the Flint lead water crisis and increased national will to address the problem, the National Center for Healthy Housing and the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition have launched the Find It, Fix It, Fund It Drive to eliminate lead poisoning. The bold drive is simple yet comprehensive: Find lead hazards, eliminate them, and build the political will to create key public investments and policies to do so.

If you’d like to get involved, please sign up here to join the Find It, Fix It, Fund It Action Drive and/or add your organization’s logo to it, or register here to join a webinar launching the drive at 1 p.m. EST Wednesday, May 25.

Additionally, the First Focus Campaign for Children has created a petition to ask legislators to act quickly to address the lead-poisoning crisis. We encourage you to sign the petition today and you may do so by clicking here.

Big win 2 protect kids from #leadpoisoning and youth homelessness in Transportation/HUD bill >> #InvestInKids
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