Rep. Cummings: Flint kids need to be compensated

Detroit staff and wire reports

Detroit — U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings spoke Friday at the 50th anniversary celebration for a prominent Detroit church, calling for children to receive financial and other help to recover from Flint’s water crisis.

Fellowship Chapel’s Jubilee Banquet is being held Friday evening at the MGM Grand Detroit hotel.

Cummings, D-Maryland, is speaking on the importance of the African-American church in community development, social justice and economic opportunity. He also is being recognized for his advocacy on behalf of Flint residents affected by the city’s lead-tainted water crisis.

Cummings has called for swift, aggressive action to remediate the water problem and help children affected by lead poisoning. In response to a question Friday night, he said he’s unsure how much money is needed.

“I do not have a figure, but I do think that there needs to be a fund to compensate the children,” Cummings said. “You got 10,000 children who are potentially damaged for life and so I know one thing — the Legislature ought to be moving.

“The Congress should be moving and not one single person should stop anyone from getting their due,” he said. “The government took over Flint and basically poisoned the water, they poisoned the people.”

Flint’s crisis reached its peak exposure point early in 2016 with hearings before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Local, state and federal officials were summoned to testify, including Gov. Rick Snyder. Many of those appearances produced fireworks, with legislators asking tough questions and offering critical assessments of the government’s performance.

As the ranking member on the House panel, Cummings had ample opportunity to grill officials over actions that led to Flint’s water crisis, which has now entered its third year. On March 17, Cummings came face to face with Michigan’s top official and did not mince words.

“There will be an entire generation of children who suffer brain damage, learning disabilities and many other horrible effects of lead poisoning that were inflicted on them by Gov. Snyder’s administration,” Cummings said. “There will be many children ... who sit in second and third grade and will not be able to read the words ‘see Spot run’ and won’t know why. But the reason why is that there’s lead in their veins.”

Cummings has called for Snyder to resign, a position he repeated Friday night.

“One of the reasons I wanted the governor to resign was so that he would get out of the way of people who were trying to help the whole time because it’s very unfortunate that you’ve gone now almost two years where people have water coming out of their spigots, which is far above the levels allowed for hazardous waste and still people are not getting their due,” the congessman said.

“And I don’t want this to become the norm, I don’t want this to become the norm in the United States of America where people aren’t getting what every citizen is entitled to – clean water should be a right.”

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, praised Cummings’ willingness to stand up and press for answers to and action on the Flint crisis. “He is tremendous. ... He will give me a look when it’s time to fight (in Congress),” Lawrence said.

From April 2014 until October 2015, while under the control of an appointed emergency financial manager, Flint stopped getting its water from Detroit and began drawing it from the river that shares its name.

The city failed to treat that water with corrosion controls that would have prevented lead from leaching out of pipes and plumbing fixtures. That failure is suspected to have led to high levels of lead found in drinking water and in the blood of local children.

In addition, the number of cases of Legionnaires’ disease rose during the same period Flint residents drank water from the river. Starting in 2014, Legionella bacteria sickened 79 people and killed 12.

Staff writer Evan Carter and The Associated Press contributed.