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St. Joseph County denied funds to fight lead, application wasn't strong enough

SOUTH BEND, Ind. --  St. Joseph County has been denied federal funds to fight the lead crisis for the second year in the row. ABC57 Investigates how their application may not have been up to par.

South Bend homes, laced with lead. ABC57 News first told you about the lead crisis in the community, back in February, when we introduced the Griffith family. 

"He's still being exposed to it," says Brittany Griffith. 

The family, including two-year-old Atticus, are one of the many faces of South Bend's lead problem. 

"It's really disappointing that the community and the health of the community doesn't matter," she says.

It's a problem that they, and many other families, hoped would be solved with the renewal of a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant, that would finance reduction and abatement of lead hazards. 

But, for the second year in a row, the county was denied those funds.

"The county was eligible for a grant, but its grant was not as strong as other applications," explains Dr. Warren Friedman, the Senior Advisor for the Lead Hazard Council.  "Because we have a fixed amount of funding, they are not receiving a grant."

He broke down the five different factors they look at when they determine who gets the money.

They review the need and extent of the problem, the experience of the applicants, the status of the approach, where the money would go, and how they would evaluate the results. 

Friedman says the need is definitely there, but the other factors were lacking.

"How the applicant would manage the grant if they got it...what they would do with the money, how they would oversee," he explains. 

Factors and a set of guidelines that HUD says, if followed, greatly helps communities get the needed funds. 

"Not what is on paper, but the substance of how they want to approach the problem," Friedman adds.

But Griffith isn't surprised they were denied the funding yet again. 

"What would you be surprised about?" she asks. "That you guys brushed it under the rug all these years?"

What truly angers her, is a possible missed opportunity.

"Applicants can request what we call a debriefing. In that debriefing, applicants are advised by the people who have reviewed the applications," explains Friedman. "Here's what you did well, here's where you could have strengthened." 

Friedman says the goal of these debriefings are to help communities get the grant if they choose to reapply. 

He could not say whether or not St. Joseph County took advantage of it.

"We'll be glad to discuss the strengths and weaknesses with St. Joseph County, and it will be up to them to decide if they want to discuss with anyone else," says Friedman. 

That disappoints Griffith. 

"If they told you last year how to do better or how to be better, why didn't we do that last year?" she asks. " If [the community mattered], then we would have listened to the federal government this is what we need."

As a mother, she wishes someone would care about her son as much as she does. 

"It's heartbreaking to say I don't have the money to fix this problem," she adds. "I don't have the money to help my baby. And he's being affected by it."

For now, it's a fight that now clearly lacks a financial backing: leaving St. Joseph County a sicker society. 

"All I'm hearing is we don't matter. That's heartbreaking," says Griffith. "My son and my community matter to me."

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