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Congress investigating the Jackson water crisis and the use of $10 billion in Mississippi federal funds

Congress is investigating the crisis that left 150,000 people in Mississippi’s capital city running water for several days in late summer, according to a letter sent by two Democratic officials to Gov. Tate Reeves.

Mississippi Reps. Benny Thompson, and Carolyn Maloney of New York sent letters Monday seeking information that Mississippi planned to spend $10 billion from the American Rescue Planning Act and the bipartisan infrastructure law, and $429 million “specially allocated . Enhance the state’s water infrastructure.”

The letter points to the “beginning of a joint investigation” by the House Homeland Security and Oversight and Reform Committee into a crisis that deprived Jackson’s 150,000 residents of running water for several days in late August and early September, Adam Comes said. , a staff committee, told the Associated Press.

Thompson’s district covers most of Jackson, and he is the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. Maloney is the chairman of the Monitoring and Reform Committee.

Jackson has had water problems for years, and the latest problems began in late August, when heavy rains exacerbated problems at the city’s main treatment plant, leaving many customers running without water. Jackson was already under a boil-water notice since late July because the state health department found cloudy water that could make people sick.

Running water was restored within days, and a boil-water notice was lifted in mid-September, but the letter to Reeves states, “The water plant infrastructure in the city remained precarious. has occurred, and remains a risk to the residents of Jackson.”

The pair of congressional Democrats requested funds from the American Rescue Planning Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act to include “each of the racial demographics and population sizes” of the communities that had received aid. He also requested information about the “enormous obstacles” Jackson faced in receiving additional federal funding. The letter asked Reeves to provide the requested information by October 31.

Mississippi has yet to announce how it will spend US Rescue Plan Act money for water projects. Cities and counties had a deadline of September 30 to apply for funding.

According to the letter, oversight committee staff learned at a briefing with Jackson officials that the state attempted to limit funding to Jackson for its water system. The letter said the state reportedly planned to “prevent communities of more than 4,000 people from competing for additional funding from the bipartisan infrastructure law.”

In their letter, Thompson and Maloney also noted reporting by the AP that Reeves had a hand in delaying funding to repair the water system in Jackson and claimed to have blocked the funding. Reeves’ office did not immediately respond to the AP’s request for comment on the letter.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice in January that Jackson’s water system violates the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. In September, federal lawyers threatened legal action against the city if it did not agree to negotiations related to its water system. Lumumba said the city is working with the federal government on a plan to fix the water system.

The failure by city and state officials to provide Jackson residents with a reliable water system reflects decades of government dysfunction, population change and decaying infrastructure. It has also fueled a political battle between GOP state lawmakers and Democratic city officials.

The escalation continued after the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency announced Friday that it was seeking a private contractor to run the Jackson water system for a year. According to the proposal released by MEMA, the agreement will be funded by the City of Jackson.

In a news release Monday, Reeves said his office had been told by city officials that Jackson Mayor Chocway Inter Lumumba was “functionally scuttling the city’s cooperation” by refusing to participate in the process of selecting a water operator. planning to end”.

“Although politics is clearly their priority, we’re just trying to make sure the Jackson waters don’t fail again,” Reeves said. “Ultimately, it may fall to the city council to rein in this radical gamble.”

Even though MEMA wrote that it had requested a private contractor “in unified command with Jackson City,” rancor ensued.

Reeves threatened to withdraw state aid if the city did not change course. Reeves said, city officials were communicating that they “no longer desire state aid and insist on going it alone.”

In a statement, Lumumba counterattacked that the city was “going it alone” after years of asking for state support, and that Jackson “made no mention of ending the city’s cooperation” with state and federal officials. The mayor said the city would not agree to a private contractor’s request until it had an opportunity to modify the language in the proposal.

“The city, with the support of those who actually invest in the repair and maintenance of water treatment facilities, will have the final say,” Lumumba said. “We look forward to productive negotiations that lead to a de facto agreement rather than a title.”

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