02.29.16

SCHUMER VISITS WESTCHESTER & ANNOUNCES NEW LEGISLATION TO COMBAT MAJOR LEAD CRISIS PLAGUING UPSTATE NY; SENATOR SAYS CONGRESS MUST VOTE ON BILL TO HELP HUDSON VALLEY HOMEOWNERS REMOVE HAZARDOUS LEAD FROM THEIR HOMES

New York’s Housing Stock Is Old & Many Housing Units Built Pre-1978 Could Contain Lead Paint – More Than 40% of Housing Stock in Westchester County Was Built Before 1950 And, In 2014, 158 Children Tested Were Found To Have Lead Poisoning

Schumer Also Announces Push to Increase Funding for HUD’s Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control Program; Funding Has Plummeted Since 2003?

Schumer: Bill Would Provide Federal Tax Credits to Help Westchester & Hudson Valley Homeowners Get The Lead Out

Standing in Yonkers, NY, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced new legislation that would directly address the persistent lead problem in Westchester County and the Hudson Valley. Paint with more than .06 percent lead was banned for residential use in 1978 and countless homes built before then contain toxic lead-based paint. Schumer said federal funding for lead poisoning prevention has plummeted and Congress must act fast and pass this legislation to help homeowners reduce the cost of removing lead from homes. Schumer said that, while progress has been made in New York to combat this problem, lead poisoning still remains a major issue. Based on the most recent Children’s Blood Lead Surveillance Data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2014 more than 2,300 Upstate New York children tested were found with blood-lead levels of above 5 micrograms per deciliter, which is associated with permanent neurological damage and behavioral disorders, according to the CDC. The CDC says even low blood-lead levels is a major concern for children under 6 years of age because their brains are not fully developed and are sensitive to lead exposure. Out of 4,203 tested, 158 children in Westchester County were found to have lead poisoning and approximately 42 percent of its housing stock was built before 1950.

“Lead poisoning is an irreversible, preventable tragedy that robs many families and children of their future. We need to do everything we can to eliminate this hazardous lead from Westchester and Hudson Valley homes, many of which were painted with toxic levels of lead before 1978 when it was banned,” said Schumer. “This tax credit, worth a total of $4,000, and a critical increase in federal investments would help more families and communities get the lead out. That is why I am introducing a bill with my colleague Senator Whitehouse to finally give families, eligible landlords and homeowners a tax credit to help cover the cost of removing lead hazards in their homes. We need to act now and we need to act fast to get toxic lead out of our homes, before more young children and their families are impacted by lead poisoning.”

Schumer said that, despite successful work over the past decade to reduce the number of children with high levels of lead in their blood, across Westchester and the greater Hudson Valley area, there is still a large number of children now known to have blood-lead levels between 5-9 micrograms per deciliter. The CDC recently revealed that half a million U.S. children ages 1-5 have blood-lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter, which, since 2012, has been the level at which the CDC recommends public health actions be initiated. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), lead exposure is much more harmful to children than adults because it can affect children’s developing nerves and brains. Lead-based paint – which still encases the walls in older homes that were built when the substance was widely used – often erodes and settles on everything from food on a table, to children’s toys on the floor. This then easily allows the substance to get into the hands and mouths of children. In addition, many older homes contain lead plumbing. Many plumbing fixtures, such as spigots and faucets, were allowed to be manufactured with lead levels above 8 percent before 2014. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 10-20 percent of the lead that poisons children comes from tap water.

According to the National Center for Healthy Housing, childhood exposure to lead has lifelong consequences, including decreased IQ and cognitive function, developmental delays and behavioral problems. Very high levels of lead exposure can cause seizures, coma and even death. Some health organizations, like the National Center for Environmental Health in a 2012 study, argue that no safe blood-lead threshold in children has yet been identified. For this reason, Schumer said it is disturbing that a large percentage of housing units across the Hudson Valley and Westchester area were built before 1978 and could therefore contain toxic levels of lead. In fact, according to the New York State Department of Health’s data in 2000, 42.9 percent of the housing stock in New York State was built before 1950, when lead-based paint was widely used. In Upstate NY alone, 36.6 percent of housing units were built pre-1950. In Westchester County, 42 percent of the housing stock was built prior to 1950.

Schumer said this is particularly concerning given that 158 children ?in Westchester County – approximately 3.8 percent of those tested – were determined to have lead poisoning, in the CDC’s 2014 data. Schumer therefore said this underscores the continued need to bolster lead hazard abatement efforts. However, federal funding for lead poisoning prevention and remediation has plummeted in recent years. Therefore, Schumer said Congress must act fast to both restore historic funding levels and to pass legislation he is co-sponsored with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse [D-RI], which would reduce the cost of removing lead from homes. The Home Lead Safety Tax Credit Act of 2016 would help homeowners, landlords, tenants and other remove lead from their homes. 

Schumer therefore launched a two-pronged plan to combat lead poisoning across New York State and the Hudson Valley region. First, Schumer today introduced legislation with Senator Whitehouse aimed at providing federal tax credits to help homeowners and communities get lead out of their housing units. Schumer said this bill would do the following:

·         Would cover up to 50 percent of the costs of removing lead in homes;

          o   This credit would be up to $3,000 for getting rid of lead pipes, lead paint and replacing painted surfaces, windows or fixtures contaminated with lead paint;

          o   An additional credit $1,000 in tax credits would be available for specialized cleaning, monitoring and resident education about lead paint contamination.

·         This tax credit would be fully refundable and amendable against prior year returns, so the value can be claimed quickly;

·         The tax credit would be available to households earning up to $110,000 per year.

Schumer said the tax credit that would be created by his legislation would complement the existing grant program used by homeowners to reach more homeowners and encourage them to replace windows with lead paint, doors with lead paint and other lead paint hazards. Schumer noted that the tax credit would be available to those with household incomes up to $110,000. Finally, Schumer said addressing these housing-related health hazards makes economic sense, as every $1 spent to reduce home lead hazards provides a benefit of at least $17.

As the second part of his effort, Schumer is pushing federal appropriators to increase funding for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Lead Hazard Control & Healthy Home grant program, which has been consistently shortchanged over the last several years. The Lead Hazard Control & Healthy Home grant program received its highest level of funding in 2003, at $176 million, but it has seen significant declines ever since. Since FY 2014, the program has only received $110 million and the President’s Proposed FY17 Budget released earlier this month again calls for it to be funded at only the $110 million level. Schumer said beginning this year, it is critical to reverse this declining funding trend and move back to the program’s higher historic funding levels. 

Schumer said that the federal government has been able to better protect communities and children from lead poisoning by providing millions of dollars in HUD Lead Hazard Control & Healthy Home grant funding – as well as other programs like HUD’s HOME Investment Partnerships Program – in past years. However, overall federal funding to address this problem has plummeted and lead exposure remains a persistent problem in New York State. Schumer said that when these programs are funded and used well, they allow residents to mitigate lead hazards and keep their families safe.

Schumer pointed to local Yonkers resident, Teresa Matheson, as the prime example. Schumer stood at the Matheson family home in Yonkers during his visit to Westchester as he announced this push, and explained that a federal HOME grant will soon allow them to remove lead hazards in their home on Sedgewick Avenue. HOME funding is distributed to municipalities like Yonkers, which is then responsible for distributing funds to homeowners like the Mathesons. Next week, they will begin the removal of lead paints hazards throughout their house, including the replacement of windows and the removal of lead paint from walls, doors and any other painted surface where lead was detected. The grant also covers the installation of a new roof, including gutters, leaders and downspouts. Schumer said if more funds and federal incentives were employed to mitigate lead hazards in homes like the Matheon’s, more Westchester and Hudson Valley residents would be able to remove these health hazards from their homes.

Schumer said this is particularly important, as the findings of the Presidential Lead Commission a decade ago said it would take $230 million per year, over a 10-year period, to clean up the worst houses. Many of these homes were built before 1960 and in the neighborhoods with the most need. Schumer is therefore urging federal appropriators to increase funding for the HUD program, up to the $230 million level. Schumer said NY State municipalities have received millions in Lead Hazard Control & Healthy Home grant funds over the last 10 years (2004-2014). The Hudson Valley received a total of $15,417,045 in that time period. Schumer said that, if overall funding for HUD Lead Hazard Control & Healthy Home Grant program continues to shrink, there will be less funding available to sustain these local low-income grant programs. 

Schumer was joined by Mike Spano, Mayor for the City of Yonkers; Thomas Meier, Yonkers Public Works Commissioner; Lisa Caswell, of Early Childhood Development and Education and Social Services; Lou Albano, Deputy Commissioner for Yonkers Planning and Development; Frank Martinez, Housing/Rehab Loan Coordinator for Yonkers Planning and Development; Dr. Philip Landrigan, Dean of Global Health at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine; and Dr. Allen Dozer, Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center of the Hudson Valley.

Schumer also highlighted the fact that the nearby Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai’s Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU) is tasked with diagnosing, treating and preventing diseases in children that are caused by toxic exposures in the environment. For over 15 years, this unit has cared for children with lead poisoning with the help of an annual CDC allocation of $150,000. Schumer said if more funding like this were available on the federal level to homes and communities for lead abatement purposes, residents and localities would be able to more robustly combat the lead problem in Westchester County and the greater Hudson Valley.

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