Flint officials, including Mayor Karen Weaver, renewed their call Monday for Congress to approve aid for the lead-contaminated water crisis before its members break for the holidays.
In a conference call, Weaver said lawmakers should push ahead for Flint aid in the Water Resources Development Act legislation funding for the city and its long-running water issues in a new budget bill.
“Flint needs to stay a priority — we cannot let this go away,” she said. “This is November. We’re six months into our third year ... that the residents of Flint have not been able to bathe or cool with their water. It makes no sense.”
Both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed versions of WRDA this year, but a compromise bill has yet to emerge. In recent weeks, the focus of Flint aid has shifted.
Earlier this month, Republican House leaders indicated financial support to help Flint replace its lead water lines may come from the budget — either in a short-term resolution designed to keep the government operating or in omnibus spending legislation.
“Bottom line is: Flint is going to get their money,” said Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, on Nov. 17. The House is expected to recess in December once a short-term deal is reached.
Flint officials have long tired of waiting for congressional help. The city has been dealing with public health issues since April 2014, when it began drawing its drinking water from the Flint River. That decision was made while the city was under the control of an emergency manager appointed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.
Not treating river water with chemicals to prevent corrosion is believed to have led to heightened levels of lead in the drinking water and may have caused an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease. Health officials continue to urge residents to drink only bottled and filtered water more than year after the city returned to its traditional water source.
Francis Gilcreast, president of the NAACP’s Flint branch, said many local families can’t host relatives and friends at Thanksgiving and Christmas because of the water. With no end in sight, she said, the crisis weighs on residents both physically and emotionally.
“Psychologically, it’s devastating to our citizens,” Gilcreast said. “For our government to have done this and then turned its back on our citizens — there is no way that three years into this we should still be suffering with this.”
The House version of WRDA called for $170 million in aid for cities like Flint where infrastructure improvements were critical in the face of public health issues. The Senate passed a $220 million package.
Asked if she preferred assistance in the form of WRDA or a budget appropriation, Weaver was unequivocal.
“However we can get the money, it needs to happen,” she said. “Flint needs to be a priority.”
While lawmakers continue to talk about solutions, Flint residents like Gina Luster continue to deal with living in a city where no one trusts the water.
“It bothers me that I have to send my 8-year-old daughter to school every morning and her backpack is full of more water bottles than books ...,” said Luster, an activist with the group Flint Rising.