Congress funnels federal dollars to Jackson in year-end spending bill

The Mississippi city is slated to get $150 million for "technical assistance" and $450 million for "capital projects" in the bill, whose passage will avert a government shutdown.

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The city of Jackson, Mississippi, could get an unprecedented $600 million in assistance from Congress to help with its ongoing water crisis.

Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson and Republican Sen. Roger Wicker, both of Mississippi, shared Tuesday that the funds are included in the congressional year-end financing omnibus package and would go only to the capital city, according to the Mississippi Free Press. The federal funding would help reconstruct a sizable piece of the city’s drinking water infrastructure.

If Congress passes the package, Jackson would receive $150 million for “technical assistance” and $450 million for “capital projects.” An earlier U.S. Justice Department decision described the extensive repairs required to fix Jackson’s water systems, including significant automation and winterization upgrades and stabilization of the system’s depleted staff reserves with a “minimum appropriate staffing” contract.

(From left) Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves confer after a September tour of Jackson’s O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Facility, where problems exacerbated water troubles. The year-end federal budget earmarks $600 million to help correct the situation. (Photo: Rogelio V. Solis/AP, Pool, File)

“I look forward to voting for the complete omnibus package,” Thompson said Tuesday, according to the Free Press. “I am proud to support the $600 million that will be included in the omnibus bill to help Jackson, Mississippi. In addition to the $600 million, Jackson will also receive additional funding from the omnibus bill.”

The O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant was overwhelmed by torrential rains and a flooded reservoir this year, bringing Jackson’s water system problems to a climax. Residents endured weeks of boil-water advisories a year after a winter freeze knocked out the city’s water supply for a whole month. The situation required government assistance and an emergency declaration to stabilize the system.

The Justice Department has since appointed Ted Henifen as a third-party manager to oversee the water system for the foreseeable future, theGrio previously reported.

State and local officials have estimated the cost of overhauling the city’s water system to be around $1 billion. However, a large portion of that expenditure would go toward maintaining and modernizing the extensive distribution infrastructure that runs beneath Jackson’s streets, which would take years to accomplish.

During a press conference with Mayor Chokwe Lumumba this month, Henifen contended that Jackson has the most tested water in America and said it’s safe to drink. 

“There is a lot of confidence,” he maintained, according to theGrio. “The EPA is still on site testing the water. If you are worried about drinking water, I say come to Jackson. This water is really high quality and very, very well tested and approved.”

Henifen also said he does not anticipate increasing water bills for Jackson residents as work proceeds.

Congress must approve the $1.7 trillion, 4,000-page omnibus measure by the end of the week to avoid a government shutdown, the Free Press reported. The bill would give officials the majority of the money they need to rebuild the drinking water system in the city, which is 82 percent Black.

Despite being critical of Jackson’s decision-making, Thompson has frequently accused his state of carelessness for failing to adequately sustain its capital city over a few decades, blasting Mississippi’s GOP governor, Tate Reeves, in past comments.

“Jackson is the capital,” Thompson said previously, the Free Press reported. “Everything revolves around the capital city, so it’s to everyone’s advantage for the capital city to work. And what we have is a reluctant office of the governor who’s decided that for whatever reason, Jackson would be treated differently.”

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