Federal funding for key city program cut
The program’s four full-time employees will also lose their jobs effective that date.
“Unfortunately, we learned late last week that HUD (federal Department of Housing and Urban Development) did not fund the renewal grant for the Lead Hazard Abatement Program,” Adam Baacke, assistant city manager/Division of Planning and Development, said an email Friday. “As a result, after 12 successful years which saw hundreds of housing units deleaded, the Lowell Lead Program will be ending. We hope there will be another funding opportunity to renew the program soon, but HUD has not announced any timelines yet.”
Rhonda Siciliano, a HUD spokesman, did not return a telephone message left at her office Friday.
According to Baacke, the demand for lead paint abatement remains high, and, when combined with recent cuts to the federal funding that supported the state’s lead programs, “the absence of these resources will definitely be felt in the Merrimack Valley, particularly among families with young children who live in homes that have not been deleaded. This is yet another example of how the impact of budget cutting being done in Congress is being felt locally.”
The grant request was for about $2.5M.
“We have not had the opportunity for any debriefing with HUD yet as to the reasons Lowell’s application was not funded. This is actually the second round that Lowell’s program was not awarded funding in and last time there was a general sense that the program was a victim of its own success. Because the program had addressed a substantial number of units over 12 years, other communities now had even greater need than the Lowell region for abating lead paint in housing units. The need clearly remains in the Lowell region however; the program has a substantial waiting list. As a result, DPD will be looking to restore the program if HUD announces another funding round.”
Lowell’s application was rejected despite a letter of support from Rep. Niki Tsongas. But Tsongas isn’t to blame, Baacke said. “It is important to note that Congress ultimately cut funding for the program that this grant is drawn from by 14 percent over the President’s request. I don’t believe Congresswoman Tsongas supported this cut, nor did the Senate prior to compromise with the House leadership.”
Health Director Frank Singleton said he is worried. He said the grant not only funded employee salaries, but funded a “fairly elaborate” program, including loans to property owners to pay for deleading projects.
“There has been a fair amount of deleading in the city,” Singleton said. “But we have a lot of older homes and apartment buildings in the city where lead remains a problem.”
Lead poisoning is a disease caused when lead enters the body. Lead is a metal and can be swallowed or inhaled. Lead in the body can cause damage to the brain, kidneys, and nervous system in young children.
Children 6-years-old and younger are especially vulnerable to led paint. Ninety percent of all lead poisoning cases are from lead paint dust.
State law requires building owners must remove or cover lead paint hazards in homes built before 1978 if a child under 6 lives there. Lead paint hazards include loose paint and lead paint on windows or other places that children can reach.
The four employees losing their jobs are represented by AFSCME, local 2532. The president of that union is Donna Cox, the Health Department’s office manager. The positions, and their respective salaries, are: program director, $64,357; housing technician, $45,535; program assistant, $40,527; and program specialist, $41,673.
Cox said city officials met with the employees this week to update them on the latest developments and to ensure they’re familiar with various assistance programs. Cox said she’s hopeful something might be salvaged, but she’s not too confident.
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