Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive directive to ensure Benton Harbor has access to safe drinking water.
The directive implements a whole-of-government approach to move forward with urgency, Whitmer said. Whitmer also committed the state to expediting lead service line replacements using additional federal, state, and local resources with the goal of replacing all lead service lines in Benton Harbor in 18 months.
“Every Michigander deserves safe drinking water, and every community deserves lead-free pipes,” Whitmer said. “I’m proud to sign an Executive Directive today that will pursue a whole-of-government approach to protect access to safe drinking water right now and work tirelessly to replace every lead service line in Benton Harbor as soon as possible. I cannot imagine the stress that moms and dads in Benton Harbor are under as they emerge from a pandemic, work hard to put food on the table, pay the bills, and face a threat to the health of their children. That’s why we are also expediting the timeline to replace lead service lines in an effort to ensure that 100% of the pipes are lead-free in the next 18 months. We will not rest until the job is done and every parent feels confident to give their kid a glass of water knowing that it is safe.”
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II visited the community and meet with residents and community leaders.
“Today’s executive directive is a step forward in the important work we have done in Benton Harbor,” said Gilchrist. “The directive will implement a whole-of-government approach that brings together state, federal, local and municipal governments, and organizations on the ground, in the community, to solve short-term problems and replace Benton Harbor’s lead service lines as quickly as possible. Residents of Benton Harbor deserve access to clean, safe drinking water, and today’s executive directive mobilizes the resources of government to achieve that goal.”
An authorization request of WIC ready-to-feed formula for young residents and to prevent lead exposure was sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition. It will allow eligible WIC clients to receive formula that does not require mixing with water.
“Every Michigander deserves access to water they can trust to drink and that they can trust to give to their family,” said Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel. “I am committed, our department is committed and our partners are committed to continuing to put the health of the people and families of Benton Harbor at the center of every decision we make. We are taking every precaution and addressing this problem with all the tools that we have at our disposal. We will be here, working in this community, providing bottled water until further notice.”
A notification to expand Medicaid Child Health Insurance Program Health funds for lead prevention services has been sent to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. When its completed, households with children younger than 19-years-old enrolled in a Medicaid Plan or a pregnant woman enrolled in a Medicaid Plan would be eligible for a free environmental investigation for lead hazards inside their home and provide lead abatement work.
“Benton Harbor is a proud community with a rich history and everyone I talk to in Benton Harbor wants to protect their children, neighbors and friends. They just want to know that the water is safe to
drink,” said Regina Strong, Michigan’s Environmental Justice Public Advocate. “That’s why Governor Whitmer’s actions today are so important. They reflect what we have committed to do – ensure that everyone in Benton Harbor has access to clean, safe drinking water. Standing with the families of Benton Harbor is an environmental justice priority that we must address with urgency.”
With additional federal funding expected under the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act making its way through Congress, the state of Michigan will receive billions of dollars in funding to fix its infrastructure, including lead pipes.