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Indianapolis slow to spend grant to remove lead-based paint

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Indianapolis is moving at a slow pace spending a $3 million grant intended to prevent lead poisonings among low-income children by removing lead-based paint from older homes.

Since 2013, the city has spent just $600,000, or about a fifth, of the three-year grant that’s overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and aims to prevent lead inhalation or ingestion among young low-income children.

At the halfway mark of the lead mitigation grant, the city had completed work removing lead paint from just five homes out of the grant’s goal of 240 homes. The city now says it has completed work on 42 homes, and 16 more are pending.

Local and federal officials downplayed the severity of HUD monitoring reports, which flagged the city as a “high risk” grant recipient, but the struggles in getting the program off the ground raise questions about the city’s handling of public dollars, The Indianapolis Star reported.

Jennifer Fults, an administrator with the city’s Department of Metropolitan Development, said the lead-mitigation push was ready for its rollout in early 2013, only to have its grant manager leave. She said that person’s replacement was later pulled off the job to help with an FBI investigation of the city’s Land Bank, a probe that resulted in criminal charges.

“They got behind and it was no fault of the people running the grant,” said Jerry Freese, a HUD representative who oversees Indianapolis’ program.

But Freese said other city agencies were uncooperative with Department of Metropolitan Development employees. He declined to offer specifics, and Fults would not explain what those problems were.

Whatever the factors, the slow pace has hampered Indianapolis’ efforts to mitigate lead poisoning in a state that has more cases on average than the nation at large because of its aging housing.

More than 63 percent of Indiana’s nearly 2 million homes were built before 1978, when lead-based paint was banned for residential use. Of 48,500 children screened in 2013, more than 2,300 – or about 5 percent – had elevated blood lead levels, according to an Indiana State Department of Health report.

Lead exposure can cause childhood learning problems, stunted growth and – in extreme cases – death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.