Washington, D.C. – Legislation introduced today in the U.S. Senate would help homeowners in Rhode Island and around the country reduce the risk of childhood lead poisoning. The bipartisan Home Lead Safety Tax Credit Act of 2009, sponsored by U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME), would provide a federal tax credit of up to $3,000 to help cover the cost of reducing lead exposure in homes occupied by low-income families. The bill was first introduced in 2003 and in subsequent Congresses by then-Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“For years, lead poisoning has been one of Rhode Island’s worst public health problems for children,” said Whitehouse, a former Attorney General for Rhode Island who filed the state’s first lawsuit against lead paint manufacturers. “This bill will give homeowners the financial resources necessary to significantly reduce childhood lead exposure, and prevent further harm to our most vulnerable Rhode Islanders.”
While the dangers of lead exposure have been widely-known for decades, lead-based paint in an estimated 18 million housing units nationwide built before 1960 continues to pose a hazard. Children under the age of six are most susceptible to health risks from lead exposure, and have been known to experience learning disabilities as well as behavioral difficulty – damage that cannot be reversed. High levels of lead in a child’s home – most commonly found in dust contaminated by lead-based paint, which children ingest or inhale – can lead to kidney problems, seizures, and comas. Children ages six and under should be tested at least once a year for lead poisoning.
The Ocean State has one of the nation’s oldest housing stocks, and organizations like the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program and the Childhood Lead Action Project have been working to educate parents, property owners, and state and local leaders about the dangers of lead poisoning. According to the Rhode Island Department of Health, in 2007 alone 388 new cases of childhood lead poisoning were detected in Rhode Island, or 1.3 percent of children tested that year. That’s a decline from 1998, when 6.6 percent of children screened were found for the first time to be lead poisoned.
Current Rhode Island state law allows residents to claim total personal income tax credits of up to $6,500 for costs related to mitigation and abatement of lead-based paint. Claimants must obtain certifications from the Housing Resources Commission or the Department of Health and supply written proof of reduction or mitigation costs paid. Lower-income households are given priority in claims payment.
Whitehouse’s bill would provide an additional, federal tax credit equal to 50 percent of the lead hazard reduction costs incurred by a homeowner or tenant. This credit could be worth up to $3,000 for eligible housing units. To be eligible for the tax credit, the home must have been built prior to 1960 and be occupied by a child younger than six years old or a woman of childbearing age. To focus the help where it is needed most, the credit would be aimed at homes occupied by low-income residents with gross income of less than 185% of the poverty line.
For more information on lead poisoning in Rhode Island, including properties with lead violations and resources for parents, health professionals, and homeowners, visit the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program’s web site.