The federal government is providing $20 million for the troubled Jackson water system in legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives Friday by a 230-201 margin.
The bill passed the Senate earlier this week.
The bill will avert a partial government shutdown and continue funding of the federal government through Dec. 16. President Joe Biden will sign the legislation into law before midnight Friday when the current funding authorization expires.
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the lone Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation, voted for the proposal while the three House Republicans – Michael Guest, Trent Kelly and Steven Palazzo — voted no. Thompson and Guest both represent portions of Jackson.
Mississippi’s two U.S. senators, Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, both Republican, voted for the proposal when it passed their chamber.
“I support providing additional resources to help the city of Jackson address its water infrastructure needs,” Wicker said. “The $20 million included in this funding legislation would build on the initial $5 million provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this year through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. I recognize this funding will not be enough to address the long-standing water infrastructure issues in Jackson, but this is a good start.
A Wicker news release went on to explain, “The 2007 Water Resources Development Act authorized $25 million for the city of Jackson’s water and wastewater infrastructure needs. This authorization was provided through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Section 219 Environmental Infrastructure Assistance Program. The city received an initial $5 million appropriation from that authorization earlier this year, which will enable the Corps of Engineers to complete projects in partnership with the city.”
Politico reported at one time Thompson was trying to incorporate into the legislation funding the government an additional $200 million for the City of Jackson. Despite the much smaller appropriation to the city, Thompson, like all congressional Democrats, voted for the proposal.
In a statement, Guest said he voted against the funding bill, known as a continuing resolution, because, “Mississippians are experiencing record high inflation. I have and will continue to fight for legislation that restricts the size of government and addresses our national debt.
As far the $20 million in the bill for Jackson, Guest said, “I continue to be committed to working with local, state, and federal leaders to help with long-term solutions to the Jackson water system problem, but the continuing resolution did not address the situation on a long-term basis. The continuing resolution included concerning levels of spending and a risk for additional inflation that the people of our state cannot afford.”
Both the president and Gov. Tate Reeves issued emergency declarations in late August and early September when the system malfunctioned leaving no water pressure for many of the about 180,000 customers of the system. Water pressure has been restored and boil water notices that lasted for much of the summer have for the most part been lifted.
But officials say the system still faces long-term problems that some estimate will cost as much as $1 billion to fix.
The City of Jackson has committed to spend between $27 million and $34 million of the federal COVID-19 relief funds it received to draw down on a dollar-for-dollar basis COVID-19 relief money the state received from the federal government. Hinds County also is committing about $17 million of its COVID-19 relief funds for the project.
Often, the Republican leaders of the state and the Democratic leaders of Jackson, the state’s capital and largest city, have been at odds on how to fix the water system.
Last week federal Environmental Protection Agency officials met with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and voiced a desire to work with city officials to solve the problems with the water system. But in a letter to city officials the EPA said it is prepared to take action under federal law if “an enforceable agreement that is in the best interest of both the city and the United States” is not reached.
Lumumba has said cooperative work is under way.