Even so, more than 500 Maryland children age 6 and younger were found to be poisoned in 2009, the most recent year for which figures are available. Most of those cases, 374, were in Baltimore, where much of the rental housing is aged and dilapidated, in addition to having lead paint.
"It's hard to believe that if you're given money to do 300 houses in Baltimore that you can't immediately identify 300 houses to do work on," Norton said. "We have more than 300 poisoned kids that we can point to and do work in their houses."
Norton said she was pleased to hear the mayor is moving to address the loss of federal funding. But Norton had noted earlier that she had warned Mayor Rawlings-Blake and her predecessor, Sheila Dixon, that there were problems with the way the health department was running the program.
"Baltimore unfortunately is full of leaded houses, and full of need," said Norton. "These are critical resources. This is the worst of all time to lose the money, when resources are so precious."
Because the city had been designated "high risk," it was ineligible to apply for a fresh round of grants awarded in January, when HUD doled out $127 million to 48 projects across the country aimed at cleaning up lead-paint and other health and safety hazards in more than 11,000 homes.
The state Department of Housing and Community Development did apply for one of those grants on behalf of the city, HUD officials said, but did not get it. Gant said he didn't know specifically why the state's request for funds was not accepted, but he said "there might have been some technical issues with the application." The HUD official also noted that the number of communities seeking federal aid to treat lead paint risks in their housing stock has grown over the years
State officials did not respond to repeated requests for information about their grant application.
Norton, whose coalition works with communities around the country to reduce childhood lead poisoning, said problems with the city's lead paint effort have been building for some time. Her previous offers to help sort them out were not responded to, she said.
An earlier, $2.7 million grant for reducing lead-paint risks in Baltimore housing also ran into problems, said Miller, programs director for HUD's Healthy Homes office. However, the 2007 grant had already been awarded by the time the severity of those problems became clear.
Gant said HUD officials discovered "some other administrative issues" with how the city was spending the federal funds after reviewing the health department's files. He declined to go into details on what his grants director called "an ongoing investigation."
The city health department's lead poisoning effort was overseen until recently by Madeleine Shea, a deputy health commissioner. She took a position in January with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, now headed by her old boss, former city health commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein . Dr. Shea was not available to comment, according to a spokesman at the state health department.
O'Doherty, the mayor's spokesman, said Rawlings-Blake had initiated a review of the program and that it would continue at the city housing department "without significant interruption."
But Farrow noted that about 13 positions at the city health department have been cut because their salaries were funded largely through the HUD lead abatement grant.
Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said the effort will continue with a scaled-back staff of five under him. The state has offered the city $520,000 that should help cushion the impact of losing the federal grant funds, he added.
Meanwhile, he said his agency would take any necessary "corrective steps" to address HUD's concerns so the city's odds improve when it reapplies for federal grant funds, probably at the end of the year.
More broadly, Graziano said integrating the lead paint abatement program with weatherization and general rehabilitation at Housing makes organizational sense and will create efficiencies that save money.
Norton said she still stands ready to help the city get its program back in the federal government's good graces and eligible to receive funds again. Meanwhile, she said her coalition is doing what it can to help any city residents seeking help removing lead-paint hazards in their homes.
The coalition received a $2 million grant of its own from HUD to help replace windows — one of the chief sources of toxic lead dust from old paint — but has distributed about two-thirds of that money. Norton said she was hoping to appeal to private philanthropies to help cover the needs until the city can regain funding.
City Councilman Robert W. Curran said he will call a hearing of the council's Health Committee, which he chairs, in the coming weeks. He wants to hear from city health and housing officials, as well as advocates like Norton, to discuss what happened and see if there is any way to restore federal funding.
"This is very unsettling news," Curran said after learning that the federal funding had ended. "We're not done by a long shot on this issue," he added, referring to the health dangers that lead paint still poses in many older Baltimore homes.
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