Discussion schedule, Addressing water pollution, Free tax prep, etc

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Dear Neighbor,

It is an honor to write to you again as your representative in Lansing. Your input on issues in state government helps me represent you better, so I hope you will contact me about the issues that are important to you. You can get in touch with me by phone at (517) 373-2577, by email at yousefrabhi@house.mi.gov, or on my website, rabhi.housedems.com. Additionally, I will send these e-newsletters monthly to update you on legislation and community news. If you would like to unsubscribe, please email me at yousefrabhi@house.mi.gov

I look forward to working together to move Michigan forward.

Sincerely,

Yousef Rabhi

Yousef and You Discussion Schedule

I periodically hold events where any constituent can come to discuss legislation and state issues. I hope to be able to speak with many of you in person. My next Yousef and YOU discussions will be:

Saturday, Feb. 24  

10 a.m. to noon

RoosRoast Coffee

1155 Rosewood St., Ann Arbor

 

Monday, March 12

6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Morgan and York

1928 Packard St., Ann Arbor

 

Saturday, March 24 

10 a.m. to noon

RoosRoast Coffee

1155 Rosewood St., Ann Arbor

 

Department of Environmental Quality Responding to Perfluorinated Compounds in Michigan

Perfluorinated compounds are used for their waterproofing and nonstick qualities in a variety of everyday applications, including stain-resistant fabric, food packaging, and fire-fighting foam. As a result, 99 percent of Americans have detectable levels of perfluorinated compounds in their blood. But ingesting high levels of the compounds has been linked to kidney cancer, high cholesterol, thyroid disorders, and a number of other health problems. Perfluorinated compounds don’t break down easily, so they accumulate in living creatures and become more concentrated at higher levels in the food chain. In recent years, industries using perfluorinated compounds have contaminated the groundwater in a number of places in Michigan. The best-known of these sites are the Wolverine World Wide shoe company in Kent County and the Wurtsmith Air Force base near Oscoda.

In January, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality set a cleanup criterion limit of 70 parts per trillion for groundwater used for drinking. This limit is based on the EPA’s health advisory level, and it applies to the total amount of perfluorinated and polyfluorinated compounds of various types, including those known as PFOA and PFOS. The level for surface water is set at 12 ppt. People are exposed to perfluorinated compounds in multiple ways, so the drinking water health advisory level was set deliberately low to keep total exposure in a range believed to be safe. Unfortunately, some of the people who rely on well water near the former shoe company and the Air Force base have been drinking water with far more than 70 ppt of perfluorinated compounds—up to 9,800 ppt.

Ann Arbor’s municipal drinking water has intermittently tested positive for perfluorinated compounds since testing began in 2014. However, the highest level detected in treated drinking water was 43 ppt, which is still well below the 70-ppt health advisory level. The contaminated water is coming from the Huron River, but the DEQ has not yet figured out how the perfluorinated compounds are getting into the river. After the spring thaw, the DEQ will begin a sampling survey upstream from Ann Arbor so that the source can be identified and fixed.

In December, I voted for a bill that provided $23.2 million in supplemental funding for the state’s perfluorinated compound response activities. Among other things, the funding will pay for the DEQ to get testing equipment sensitive enough to detect perfluorinated compounds at parts per trillion levels. The House Oversight Committee will be holding hearings to shed light on the scope of PFC contamination in Michigan and the state government’s response. The extra funding and the investigatory hearings are steps in the right direction. I also support House Bill 5375, which would set the Michigan perfluorinated compound drinking water standard at 5 ppt for PFOA and 5 ppt for PFAS, the lowest in the nation. While the 70 ppt groundwater cleanup standard is considered protective enough according to currently available science, there is no reason to tolerate any amount of these artificial compounds in drinking water.

If you have questions about PFCs, you can find general information on the DEQ website here http://www.michigan.gov/som/0,4669,7-192-45414_45929_83470_83473-452154--,00.html or call the State of Michigan Environmental Assistance Center at (800) 662-9278. For questions about Ann Arbor’s municipal water, call (734) 994-2840 or email water@a2gov.org.

 

Michigan Water Quality Suffers from Underinvestment

Over the last several weeks, I have received a large number of letters and emails about the need to re-invest in our state’s water infrastructure. During the budget process, I will advocate for increased investment in our state’s water infrastructure in my role as the minority vice chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee for the Department of Environmental Quality.

Michigan has systematically failed to invest in water-related infrastructure over many decades. Now the ugly results of that neglect are starting to make themselves known. Toxic cyanobacterial blooms (aka toxic algae), fed by poorly controlled runoff, are increasingly threatening aquatic recreation and drinking water supplies. Unsafe levels of E. coli bacteria contaminate about half of Michigan’s rivers and streams. Storm sewers and combined storm/sanitary sewers are struggling to contain the volumes of water shunted into them by sprawl and climate change. And, to our state’s everlasting shame, lead pipes have poisoned some of the people who rely on them for drinking water.

The nitrogen-rich runoff that contaminates waterways and feeds toxic cyanobacteria can be limited through regulation. We should regulate agricultural practices — banning the use of fertilizer on frozen ground, for example. And we should tackle the problem of malfunctioning septic systems statewide. But truly addressing most of these problems will require more than new rules. We need to make substantial investments of state money to improve infrastructure. Separating combined sanitary/storm sewers so that they no longer dump sewage into waterways is too expensive for municipalities to handle out of their own budgets. And locating and replacing lead service lines can be overwhelming for struggling local governments. Everyone in the state will need to step up and share the responsibility of funding the necessary work to protect the water we all use.

That’s why I was glad to see that the executive budget proposal includes a funding mechanism for drinking water improvements. I still have reservations about the details of that particular proposal, but it is encouraging to see a common acknowledgement that we need more revenue to ensure safe drinking water for Michiganders.     

 

Home Heating Help

This winter has been cold, and many Michiganders are facing higher heating bills as a result. There are some resources available to help people who are struggling with heating costs.

The Michigan Home Heating Credit helps lower-income homeowners and renters with their heating bills. Over 300,000 households received an average of $170 each from the credit last year. Treasury is already processing applications for the 2017 tax year, and people can file for the credit independently of filing a Michigan tax return. Applications for 2017 will be accepted through September. More information and an application are available from the Treasury website: http://www.michigan.gov/taxes/0,4676,7-238-43513_66852-330928--,00.html 

The Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development has two programs designed to reduce utility bills for low-income homeowners and renters of single-family homes. The Weatherization Program improves homes’ energy efficiency with measures like added insulation and new appliances. The Furnace Test and Tune program provides programmable thermostats, furnace repairs, and even replacement furnaces. For more information and applications, visit the county’s website: http://www.ewashtenaw.org/government/departments/community-and-economic-development/housing-and-community-infrastructure/Weatherization/weatherization14

Other assistance is be available to some households who are behind on their energy bills or in danger of shut-off. You can call 211 to be directed to resources in our area.

 

Free Tax Preparation

Taxes aren’t due until April, but filing your taxes early can help protect you from identity thieves who steal tax refunds. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program offers free tax help to people who generally make $54,000 or less, persons with disabilities and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing to qualified individuals.

In addition to VITA, the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program offers free tax help for all taxpayers, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older, specializing in questions about pensions and retirement-related issues unique to seniors. The IRS-certified volunteers who provide tax counseling are often retired individuals associated with non-profit organizations that receive grants from the IRS.

Before going to a VITA or TCE site, see IRS Publication 3676-B for services provided and check out the What to Bring page to ensure you have all the required documents and information the volunteers will need to help you.

For a list of free tax preparation locations and times, click here: http://www.ewashtenaw.org/government/treasurer/community-resources/2018-income-tax-clinic-information