Proposed NY Budget Cuts Concern Advocates for Cleaner School Drinking Water

By Josh Klainberg, Senior Vice President, NYLCV

Lead is a poisonous heavy metal that causes significant adverse health effects, particularly in children. It is so poisonous that experts agree that there is no safe level of lead exposure. Drinking water is one pathway of exposure to lead. Children spend much of their time in school facilities, receiving most of their water intake from school fountains and sinks. This makes any level of lead in school drinking water of particular concern.

New York State led the nation when it passed the 2016 Safe School Drinking Water Act becoming the first state in the nation to complete mandated testing of drinking water across the state test for lead contamination. The 2021 amendments to this historic law reestablished the state’s national leadership and commitment to public health in its school communities by lowering the action level to 5 ppb (down from 15 ppb) and increasing the testing periods to triennially (down from every 5 years). 

Significantly, the amended law committed New York State to fully reimburse school districts for drinking water remediation for lead contamination. The current 2023-2025 testing period for lead contamination in drinking water, with these new and improved standards in place, is underway and school district reimbursement requests are soon to follow. 

Unfortunately, Governor Hochul’s FY25 Executive Budget proposal on January 16 cut the Clean Water Infrastructure Act (CWIA)  by 50%, from $500 million to $250 million. The CWIA was created in 2017 and since then has invested $5 billion, drinking water source protection, lead service line replacement, emerging contaminants, harmful algal bloom response and prevention, climate resilient infrastructure, and more. At a time when new programs such as getting more lead out of school drinking water are coming online, now is the time to grow and not cut the CWIA.

Earlier this month, environmental justice, public health, and education advocates reached out to the state legislature to express concern over how the 50% cut to the CWIA will harm the state’s commitment to fully reimburse school districts for drinking water remediation for lead contamination as enacted in the 2021 Safe School Drinking Water Act amendments. In its letter to legislative leaders, these groups expressed their support for $600 million for the Clean Water Infrastructure Act, restoring the $250 million cut and adding an additional $100 million for this popular and effective program.

Thankfully both the Assembly and Senate agreed to restore funding for the CWIA. We now need the Governor to reconsider her cut so the state will be in a position to honor its commitment to fully reimburse school districts for drinking water remediation for lead contamination. NYLCV will be keeping an eye on this important issue as well as many other budget concerns as negotiations continue.