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Carson Katko

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, left, and U.S. Rep. John Katko take questions following a lead poisoning roundtable discussion Friday in Syracuse. 

SYRACUSE — Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson on Friday praised the city and Onondaga County for its collaboration to address lead poisoning during a roundtable discussion led by U.S. Rep. John Katko. 

Carson joined Katko, R-Camillus, for the hour-long meeting at Home HeadQuarters, a nonprofit organization in Syracuse. Several community leaders, including Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon and Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh, attended the meeting and highlighted what they're doing to combat the problem. 

Eleven percent of Syracuse children tested positive for lead, according to Walsh. There are neighborhoods on the city's South Side where nearly one-quarter of children have elevated lead levels. 

A vast majority of the city's homes were built before 1980 and half of the rental properties were constructed before 1960. That's significant because the federal government didn't ban lead paint until 1978. 

"We have a terrible lead paint problem," Katko said. 

McMahon and Walsh acknowledged the Department of Housing and Urban Development's role in the local initiative. Syracuse has received more than $33.3 million dating back to 1995 through the Lead Based Paint Hazard Reduction and Healthy Homes Supplemental funding. Onondaga County has received an additional $27 million through the programs.

The city lost its funding in 2014 because the mandated testing procedures weren't being followed. The funding was restored last year, with the city receiving $3.5 million through the Lead Based Paint Hazard Reduction grant program and $600,000 in Healthy Homes Supplemental funding. 

Onondaga County partnered with Syracuse on the 2018 grant, according to HUD. The county's role includes conducting lead risk assessments and lead hazard control work. 

Carson was impressed with the ongoing partnership. 

"You don't see that everywhere," he said. 

There could be more funding coming to central New York for lead hazard control efforts. There is $330 million in the budget for the grants, which could boost funding for Syracuse from $4.1 million to $9 million. 

With the extra funding, Carson said there could be pilot programs or opportunities for Syracuse and Onondaga County to become a "lab of innovation," which would put an even greater focus on combating high levels of lead exposure in the region. 

"Lead is a solvable problem," Carson added. 

Along with the federal funding, Katko is aiming to improve lead paint screening for children. He introduced a bill this week that would require the State Children's Health Insurance Program and Medicaid to provide lead screening coverage. 

According to Katko's office, there is guidance Medicaid follows to provide lead screening to children enrolled in the program. Children are screened at 12 and 24 months and between 24 and 72 months if they haven't been tested. But it's not a requirement for Medicaid to cover screening. 

"Doing so will help ensure families in our community and nationwide are protected from exposure to lead paint," Katko said. 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at auburnpub.com.