HHS announces $3.6M in emergency Flint funds

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The Obama administration announced $3.6 million in emergency funding Wednesday for early childhood education programs in Flint, Mich., to help children affected by the city’s contaminated water supply.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said this one-time emergency funding would go to expand Head Start and Early Head Start services in the city.

Head Start will add three classrooms this month to serve an additional 51 children in the city’s most affected areas through June 2017. The funding also allows the programs to lengthen the current school year by three weeks, provide comprehensive services to 78 preschoolers enrolled in the school’s special education program and enroll 45 addition children in the Head Start home-based program model.

Flint's water crisis began in 2014, when an emergency manager appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder (R) switched the city's water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River as a cost-saving strategy. The new water was not treated with chemicals to prevent leaching from lead pipes, and it’s feared thousands of Flint residents have been exposed to toxic levels of the heavy metal.

Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at HHS, said lead is a neurotoxin that affects the nervous system and brain development in children who are exposed. Because the brain grows most rapidly in early childhood, she said Head Start programs are crucial ways to keep the brain stimulated.

“Lead has the ability to slow down brain development and, as a result, if you don’t get on top of it, it can lead to developmental delays and potentially children not reaching their full potential as they grow into adulthood,” she said.

While the money is a good first step, Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) said Congress needs to do more.

“We need a long-term commitment to provide services,” he said.

Peters is pushing Congress to pass the Children’s Head Start Intervention for Life and Development, or CHILD, Act, a bill he introduced last month with Sen. Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowGreat Lakes senators seek boost for maritime system Podesta floated Bill Gates, Bloomberg as possible Clinton VPs Dems to McConnell: Pass 'clean' extension of Iran sanctions MORE (D-Mich.) that would create five-year grants for Head Start and Early Head Start programs in Flint.

Rep. Dan. Kildee (D-Mich.) has introduced similar legislation in the House.

Mike Lillis contributed to this report.