6/13/2016 — 

PROVIDENCE, RI – In an effort to protect low-income families from lead-based paint hazards within their homes, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) today announced that Rhode Island will receive $3 million in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Lead Hazard Reduction Demonstration Grant program and $400,000 in Healthy Homes supplemental funding.  He also joined HUD Secretary Julián Castro on a call to announce new plans to strengthen HUD regulations governing lead hazards.

Lead poisoning is the greatest environmental hazard threatening children throughout the United States.  Children who are exposed to lead can suffer damage to their kidneys and central nervous system, as well as develop cognitive and behavioral problems.

The federal government did not outlaw the use of lead-based paint until 1978.  As a result, any home built prior to that date could contain it. Decades later, children continue to be irreversibly poisoned by lead-based paint from ingesting paint chips or exposure to tiny particles of dust.

“Lead poisoning is a preventable tragedy that hurts kids and costs the public millions of dollars each year.  Lead-based paint is an epidemic in older, distressed housing, and we need to provide parents and communities with the resources they need to keep kids safe and prevent lead poisoning.  This funding will allow more parents to identify any lead hazards that may be present in their homes and help prevent and reduce exposure to their children,” said Reed a Congressional champion for eliminating lead-based paint hazards and the Ranking Member of the Senate Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Subcommittee.

Rhode Island Housing will partner with several organizations to develop and implement lead poisoning prevention strategies, including: the Rhode Island Office of Housing and Community Development, Rhode Island Department of Health (DOH), Rhode Island Office of Weatherization, Cities of Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence, and Woonsocket, Blackstone Valley Community Action Program (BVCAP), Community Action Program of Providence (CAPP), West Bay Community Action Program (WBCAP), East Bay Community Action Program (EBCAP), Housing Network of Rhode Island, Rhode Island Builders’ Association, Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, Childhood Lead Action Project (CLAP) and the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative Rhode Island.  This level of funding is expected to produce 250 lead safe and healthy housing units.

Senator Reed led the effort to include $135 million in federal funding in this year’s Appropriations bill to protect children from health and safety hazards related to lead-based paint and other home hazards, as well as a comprehensive series of reforms to current policies and an expansion of HUD’s oversight and enforcement capacity.  He also helped include an additional $25 million to assist public housing agencies (PHAs) with addressing lead-based paint hazards in Public Housing units.  This funding will allow PHAs to conduct abatements, interim controls, and risk assessments in units where children under the age of 6 reside.

Reed also wrote several provisions into the bill in order to help prevent lead poisoning, including:

•  Requiring HUD to amend and align its blood lead level standard for children under the age of six with the level recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Lead contamination of the blood above 5 micrograms per deciliter is associated with potential permanent neurological damage, according to the CDC.  Prior to 2012, the CDC used 10 micrograms as the standard.

•  Doubling the staffing resources for the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes’ Enforcement Division to improve enforcement of HUD’s lead-based paint regulations in public and HUD-assisted housing.

•  Increasing HUD’s oversight and quality assurance of physical inspections in public and multifamily housing to ensure that PHAs and landlords are complying with documentation and inspection requirements for lead-based paint hazards.

•  Requiring HUD to issue clarifying guidance to PHAs on current and prospective lead regulations to help ensure that HUD-assisted units meet HUD’s lead-safe standards, increase tenant awareness and education, and improve training for PHA maintenance and property management staff on safe inspection and abatement practices.

•  Allowing for “zero bedroom dwellings,” which include studios and efficiency apartments, to be treated the same as all other housing units, making them eligible for grants to address lead-based paint hazards. This ensures that children under the age of 6 living in assisted units are afforded the same protections as those children living in other types of assisted units.

•  Directing the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review HUD’s policies, procedures, and processes for oversight and enforcement to ensure that PHAs comply with lead-based paint regulations.  This study will analyze existing federal programs, determine whether gaps exist in compliance and enforcement of HUD’s lead-based paint regulations, and provide recommendations.

Today, Senator Reed joined HUD Secretary Julián Castro in launching the Lead-Safe Homes, Lead-Free Kids Initiative to accelerate efforts to make all public and HUD-assisted housing lead- safe.  This new HUD blueprint, which is based off of Senator Reed’s legislation, will be complimented by the launch of a public education campaign designed to increase awareness of the dangers of lead poisoning and ways that families can reduce the risk of exposure. 

This blueprint establishes goals and milestones that will create opportunities for HUD to update its regulations on blood lead levels; disseminate a toolkit for healthy homes advocates, housing organizations, and local leaders to learn more about harms of exposures to lead; and expand HUD’s research agenda to include a study on the scope of lead-based paint hazards nationally.  Through this initiative, HUD will also work with philanthropic organizations to determine how federal resources can be leveraged with the private sector to increase healthy homes activities. As part of HUD’s effort to improve its oversight of compliance with lead-based paint regulatory requirements, the Secretary will also increase and improve collaboration between the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes and program offices to ensure lead-specific monitoring, oversight, and data collection are being shared and analyzed more broadly.