Jackson struggles to use lead grant

Jackson Right now the City of Jackson has almost $3 million available to get lead paint out of people's homes. However, the city is struggling to spend it.

As with most federal money, the grant came with a lot of rules and not much leeway. That's bad news for Jackson where more than eight-percent of tested kids younger than six have elevated levels of lead in their blood.

It’s now been a year since the city received the money, which was awarded in 2018.

“Lead paint was a really pervasive paint that was used in homes for decades, Aaron Dimick, the city’s Public Information Officer said. “It’s safe to say a good number of our homes here in Jackson have lead paint in them.”

But as of Wednesday, not one residential project to remove it has been completed.

“We’re working really hard to try to get this going. There have been a lot of roadblocks in the way,” Dimick said.

He says those roadblocks include strict regulations on who can participate in this program. Applicants have to own homes that were built before 1978, have at least one child under 6, and have a certain income.

“There’s a lot of qualifications that people have to meet and not everyone qualifies for those things and all of that is set by the federal government,” Dimick said. “We would like to have more wiggle room with this program but the federal government has really strict guidelines as to who can take advantage of this.”

There's also a spending cap of $20,000 per project. The city says most bids come in at more than that. It's asking the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to raise the limit.

“They gave the okay for that, but it’s going to be a case-by-case basis,” Dimick said. “It’s not going to be, ‘hey you can go spend more than $20,000 in each house’, it’s going to be a case by case basis.”

Jackson finally got the okay to start one lead-removal project in July. There are around 30 more applications and Dimick says they need more.

“If we don’t spend all of the money by December of 2020 then that money goes back to the federal government and they’ll use it possibly on another community or for something else,” he explained.

Jackson is working with community partners and the health department to get the word out that people can apply for the grant. Eligible applicants can receive a free lead-paint inspection and risk assessment.

If hazards are found they'll be moved out of the home and into a hotel while a contractor works on it.

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