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The infrastructure law is meant to help with crises like Jackson's water problems


Last week a boil water advisory was lifted for the city of Jackson, Miss., ending a period of nearly seven weeks where the city had no clean running water. Clean or not, Jackson had no running water at all for about a week after flooding there in late August. And officials expect there will be more crises in the water supply unless there are major upgrades to the city's water treatment infrastructure. The $1.2 trillion Federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed last year is supposed to fund these sorts of upgrades. So we've brought in Mitch Landrieu. He oversees the implementation of the infrastructure package for the White House. Thank you for being here.

MITCH LANDRIEU: Oh, it's great to be with you.

SUMMERS: And, sir, I understand that you were also in Jackson recently, and I'm hoping you can give us some specific examples of what the federal government is doing for that city and the people who live there in the short term.

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, we have a long-term problem that has been percolating for many, many, many years. I walked the streets of Jackson. I talked to the citizens. The first thing all of them said to me was, mayor, this has been going on for the past 20, 25 years. And there are systemic problems across the country that, primarily, local governments and states have to deal with. The federal government is there to assist them in their efforts. But when a crisis like this happens, it's the federal government's responsibility to be on the ground right away. And that, of course, happened in Jackson.

Immediately, the president sent down FEMA. He declared an emergency. Also, the Corps of Engineers and their expertise is on the ground, as is EPA working with the water quality. That's what's happening as we speak. So I was really happy to see that that work produced the boil water advisory being lifted, the work that was done in partnership with the governor and the mayor. We're encouraging the governor and the mayor, the congressional delegation and the elected officials to work together not only to an immediate result but beginning to think about what the long term looks like.

SUMMERS: And as you point out, this is a decades-long problem. Are those local officials getting federal assistance through the infrastructure law to begin to solve this problem that has plagued the city for years?

LANDRIEU: Yeah, well, there are a couple of things. First of all, the American Rescue Plan has already allocated $450 million to Mississippi for water problems like this not only in Jackson but around the state. There's also a substantial amount of money, $75 million this year, for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to assist in this efforts. And there will be other monies that are added on to that over time. However, this is primarily a local system. It has to be locally funded. The state, of course, has money from the federal government, and it's partially their responsibility as well. And so as the governor and the mayor think about the long-term governance and the long-term structure, they have to think about financial resources as well over time.

SUMMERS: As I'm sure you've heard, there have been some tensions between the city and the state of Mississippi when it comes to funding. Does any of this funding go directly to Jackson, or would the state of Mississippi then have the deciding say in where this money that's been allocated goes?

LANDRIEU: Well, it's really a combination of both. As you know, for local municipal water systems, they're funded by fees and taxes. Then there's money that goes from the federal government to the state, which can be allocated to cities. And then there's money from the federal government that goes directly to the cities themselves. All of those funding sources have to be patched together over time to create a sustainable, reliable system. And that's what we intend to help them do now.

SUMMERS: Does the Infrastructure Act prioritize less-wealthy communities like Jackson, Miss., that especially need this sort of financial assistance?

LANDRIEU: A lot of these funds that are set aside are especially for cities like Jackson. Jackson could be the canary in the coal mine. It's not the only one in the country that has challenges. But, again, some of these things have been festering for 30 years. Some of them deal with local government. Some of them deal with its relationship with the state. All of those things have to be put on the table.

SUMMERS: Now you're at the White House now, but as some folks likely know, you are a former mayor of the city of New Orleans...


SUMMERS: ...Which is just three hours south of Jackson.

LANDRIEU: That's right.

SUMMERS: So you likely know well what it's like to need assistance from the federal government and then have to deal with the bureaucracy that sometimes accompanies that. How can the administration cut through some of that and get the funding to people who need it now?

LANDRIEU: Well, first of all, thank you for pointing out I am from the fantastic city of New Orleans. And we have challenges with our sewer and water system as well. That system has engines that are - and power sources that are over 100 years old and that have challenges as well. And so the city, which has not been able to fund that on its own, actually has reached out to the federal government for help, and the federal government has done so. The president's instructed me and other members of the administration not to wait to be called but actually to get down to Jackson. And as you have mentioned, I was down there last week, as was Deanne Criswell, who's the head of FEMA, as was Michael Regan, who's the head of EPA and the Corps of Engineers. So we're there until we help get them fixed. It's also our job to help break down the stovepipes between and amongst the different agencies and really - a one-team, one-fight mission with helping get whatever resources are available on the federal level and to help them with technical expertise.

SUMMERS: That is senior adviser to the president Mitch Landrieu. Thank you so much for joining us.

LANDRIEU: It was great to be with you. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.