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Success! State budget includes $1.25 million to help keep Michigan kids safe from lead dangers

More than $1 million to help keep Michigan children safe from lead poisoning was included in a budget bill signed in June by Governor Rick Snyder. The allocation was a direct result of advocacy and education efforts by the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Housing (MIALSH). MEC is part of the coalition’s core leadership team.

The money, $1.25 million, will be used in the 2013-2014 budget year. Advocates expect the Department of Community Health (DCH) to use the funds to address the backlog of homes waiting to be made lead safe, and for nursing and case management support for affected families.

“This funding brings us closer to the day when no children are lead poisoned,” said Tina Reynolds, MEC’s health policy director and lead coordinator of the MIALSH coalition. “We have the ability to eradicate lead poisoning entirely in Michigan. This bipartisan budget agreement is a step in that direction.”

More than 6,700 kids in Michigan exceed the Centers for Disease Control’s reference level for lead, although the CDC says there is “no safe level” of lead in a child’s blood. Effects of lead exposure and poisoning include lowered IQ, permanent reproductive and nervous system damage, behavioral problems, lack of impulse control, aggression, lower academic achievement, and higher incarceration rates.

The budget appropriation builds on the work of the coalition last year, when $2 million for lead programs was included in proposed budgets for Fiscal Year 2013. That funding made it all the way to Gov. Snyder’s desk, but was one of just three budget items he vetoed.

MIALSH is a statewide lead advocacy group formed to secure adequate and sustainable funding for lead poisoning prevention activities in Michigan. MIALSH has a diverse membership that includes public health agencies, lead service providers, lead-affected families, lead contractors and inspectors, DCH, environmental health organizations, and the landlord community among others.

MIALSH advocates for renewed state funding to make homes lead safe for children. In addition to MEC, its core leadership team includes representatives from the Detroit Lead Partnership, including CLEARCorps Detroit, as well as the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan, Michigan Council for Maternal & Child Health, the Michigan Department of Community Health (DCH), Lyke Thompson of Wayne State University, and Ecology Center.

MEC’s Reynolds serves as the lead coordinator of MIALSH. She organizes monthly conference calls that now are attended not only by core partners, but also representatives of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), doctors and nurses, health departments, and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office. She also has worked to strengthen the coalition by adding new members and educating potential new allies. In each of the past two years, for example, Reynolds has addressed the annual meeting of Michigan’s certified lead professionals. Through this outreach, she has brought 23 new lead professionals and contractors on board this year to help make a “jobs” case for the coalition’s goals.

 MEC has also led the coalition’s communications work. MEC interns developed a coalition website and worked with Reynolds on three content pieces on lead poisoning and policy solutions. Now active on Twitter and Facebook, Reynolds posts multiple times a week with relevant lead safe tips and stories to keep the coalition fresh, current and relevant. In early 2013, the coalition also launched a monthly online newsletter and worked with allies to inspire media coverage of the issue. Recent articles, including a major feature in The Detroit News, have emphasized the links between lead poisoning and low educational test scores, high incarceration rates, and other such negative outcomes for vulnerable children.

Thanks to all these efforts, MEC and our MIALSH partners have started to gain important traction in efforts to educate state leaders about the continued high incidence of lead poisoning in Michigan, the nearly foolproof effectiveness of programs to test high-risk children and abate homes, and the dramatic cuts in funding.

In addition to individual meetings with more than two dozen key decision makers in Lansing, the coalition celebrated National Lead Awareness Week in 2012 and 2013 with Lead Education Days in the State Capitol. In both cases, MEC supported and joined dozens of activists from Detroit and elsewhere in scheduling and holding meetings with key decision makers and their staff members. This year, two lead poisoned families participated in these visits and had a powerful impact on state leaders.
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