FLINT, Michigan — Help — $28 million of it — is on its way to Flint, Michigan.
Gov. Rick Snyder made it official Friday, signing a bill to provide funding to cope with ramifications of tainted water, damaged pipes and health problems for those who drank from the tap before authorities finally sounded the alarm.
“We don’t walk away if something doesn’t go right,” Snyder said moments before putting pen-to-paper. “Let’s stand up together as Michiganders to say mistakes were made, problems happened, we’re going to solve them, we’re going to fix them, and we’re going to (be) stronger.”
No one thinks this money this will solve all of Flint’s problems. Not given the uncertainty of the health impacts of what’s happened so far — Snyder said at least 45 Flint children had tested with high levels of lead in their blood, while acknowledging many more likely suffered the same fate. There will be steep costs to to fix a water supply infrastructure in Flint that has been damaged significantly, perhaps beyond repair.
Synder acknowledged as much in a letter earlier this month to President Barack Obama, estimating it would cost $767,419,500 to replace Flint’s water system.
Obama announced $80 million in new funding a week ago to help Michigan improve its water infrastructure. And on Thursday, U.S. senators from Michigan, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, plus Rep. Dan Kildee announced proposed legislation to provide up to $400 million in federal funding to go towards resolving the issue in Flint, plus $200 million to address health issues of children and adults exposed to lead.
There’s no guarantee Congress will OK this money. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, raised doubts that it would happen, saying Flint’s crisis “is primarily a local and state responsibility.”
Snyder, himself a Republican, said that it would be irresponsible not to act.
“This is a hidden problem that we’ve ignored not just in Flint, not just in Michigan, but nationally far too long,” he said. “So let’s do something about it.”
‘Failure at the local, state and federal level’
Flint’s water troubles, in a sense, began with its economic woes that prompted the state to take budgetary control in 2011. That meant the state was the top decision maker two years later, to shift Flint’s water supply from Lake Huron (via Detroit’s water system) to the Flint River, which Virginia Tech researchers found had water 19 times more corrosive than the previous supply.
Residents noticed smelly, discolored, dirty-looking water soon after that, only to get assurances from officials that it was safe to drink. On Friday, Snyder said that both the federal EPA and state Department of Environmental Quality “missed it.”
“There was a failure at the local, state and federal level,” the governor said.
It wasn’t until September, after Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha — a pediatrician at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center — and others raised alarms, that officials began to acknowledge that not only was there iron in the city’s tap water, but also alarming amounts of lead.
They switched the water supply back to Lake Huron one month later. But by then, it was too late: Water pipes around the city and in-and-out of homes had been badly damaged. Because of that, into January, it’s still not safe enough to drink and may not be until the water infrastructure is completely overhauled.
“We have a crisis in Flint,” Snyder said, echoing comments he’s made the last few weeks. “We have a situation where people cannot drink the water coming out of the tap. That’s wrong. Worse than that, people were exposed to lead. … That shouldn’t happen.”
State funds will pay for water bills, school nurses
The governor called the bill he signed, which his state’s legislature passed unanimously one day earlier, “a step moving toward solving the Flint issue.” According to his office, the money will pay for:
• Bottled water, filters and testing kits for residents
• Salaries of nine nurses in Flint public schools to monitor students’ health
• Better nutrition for children through WIC and in-school programs
• Replacing water fixtures in schools, daycares and nursing homes
• A study, conducted by independent experts, to assess Flint’s water infrastructure
• Treatment of children with high levels of lead in their blood, which can cause health problems
• Water bill payments of residents
The state has come under fire for its handling of the Flint water crisis up until now, with some demanding Snyder’s resignation. The governor, though, has insisted he wants to see this through to its resolution. And whatever heat he’s faced, it’s nothing compared to what the people of Flint are going through.
“I always try to think of the person in Flint (who) can’t use the water coming out of the tap, and what their life is like,” Snyder said. “And how they are in a worse place than I am.”