Michigan trial to focus on reign of terror that ended in sex ring leader's death

$28M Flint supplemental bill heads to Snyder

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — A $28 million supplemental funding bill requested by Gov. Rick Snyder to address the ongoing Flint drinking water contamination crisis is now headed to his desk for signature.

The Michigan Senate on Thursday morning unanimously approved the bill and signed off on Snyder’s plan to extend a state emergency declaration in the Flint region through April 14. The House gave final approval to both bills on Thursday afternoon.

Snyder, who continues to face criticism for the state’s initial response to the crisis, said the supplemental spending bill “shows how all of Michigan can pull together in times of crisis, and further shows what working together can accomplish.”

“I want the residents of Flint to know this supplemental funding is just one part of the solution for healing the city,” the governor said in a statement. “The immediate needs will be met, but so will the long-term needs of residents with regard to public health, infrastructure replacement and community support.”

The legislation was modified Wednesday in committee to include more than $2 million for early on health assessments for children ages 0-3, up from $260,000 in a version passed by the House last week. The funding will go to the Genesee County Intermediate School District for testing, service coordinators and psychologists.

It includes another $675,000 for the Genesee ISD to hire nine nurses, boost parental communications, fund wraparound service coordination and provide students with more fresh fruit and vegetables, which can mitigate the effect of irreversible lead damage.

“We need to make sure that we start doing the assessment and the health care needs right away, and we need to make sure the administration gets this money to where it is needed as soon as possible,” said Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint. “Then we can start working on the long-term because this is going to be multiple budget cycles, unfortunately.”

The spending bill does not include any funding to replace underground lead services lines damaged after the city began using harsh Flint River water in April of 2014, but Ananich successfully pushed to include $500,000 for outside experts to conduct an infrastructure integrity study.

An amendment proposed by Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof and adopted on the floor will require the Michigan Office of the Auditor General to audit the new state funding and report to the Legislature how it has been used.

“Very broadly, let’s make sure that the money we’re spending is being used effectively,” said Meekhof, R-West Olive, “and I believe the auditor general will be able to track that and make sure that the taxpayers are indeed comforted that we’re being compassionate, that we’re trying to solve the problem.”

Extending the governor’s emergency declaration, which was set to expire on Feb. 2, means that Michigan State Police’s Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division to will continue to coordinate response efforts on the ground.

The supplemental spending bill includes $4.6 million for the state health department to continue purchasing bottled water, filters and replacement cartridges for Flint residents who still cannot drink their own tap water. That’s less than the $8 million approved by the House.

An outpouring of donations from celebrities, businesses and other groups has reduced the immediate need for bottled water, which the state is also buying at a heavily discounted rate from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

That allowed the state to spend more on the early-childhood assessments, which Senate Appropriations Chairman Dave Hildenbrand called the start of a “second phase” in the ongoing relief effort.

The assessments will help officials “get a better idea of the long-term implications that the consumption of lead may have had on them,” said Hildenbrand, R-Lowell.

The funding bill includes close to $1 million for the state health department to temporarily expand the Women, Infants and Children special food assistance program by raising the age cap to cover Flint children through age 10, instead of 5.

Another $3 million would go to the Department of Environmental Quality to help Flint’s water fund stay solvent despite outstanding bills from residents who are not paying for water they cannot drink.

Rep. Sheldon Neeley, D-Flint, called the bill a “good start” but said “many, many more steps” must still take place to help Flint residents.

“At the state level, we need to put forth a good bill package to make sure that this is never revisited on another great American city like Flint,” he said, urging his colleagues to consider larger water quality issues around the state.

Neeley, who has met with Snyder advisers and state department heads for discussions on the Flint water crisis, said he has never had a face-to-face meeting with the governor on the topic.

“Until we have that dialogue, I’ll hold some of my criticisms, but his responses have been very slow and anemic,” Neeley said. “I corresponded with him a year ago about this problem, so I guess I’ll get that conversation with him next year.”

Ananich, in a floor speech before the Senate vote, stressed the state’s responsibility for the crisis by noting that the Department of Environmental Quality failed to ensure proper corrosion controls were added to Flint River water that leeched lead into homes.

“This problem could have most definitely been avoided,” he said. “…It’s a population-wide problem. And what that means is that every single person who was ingesting this water for any length of time has some form of lead in their system.”

The Legislature in October approved $9.3 million to help Flint return to Detroit water while construction continues on a new regional pipeline to Lake Huron.

Snyder, who requested the $28 million supplemental, said it will not be his last ask for Flint. He’s scheduled to present his 2017 executive budget proposal in early February.