GM, UAW donating $3 million to help Flint children

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. and the United Auto Workers will donate $3 million to the United Way of Genesee County to help support health and education needs for the children of Flint who have been impacted by lead-contaminated water.

The nonprofit organization on Tuesday said the five-year commitment “will address immediate, ongoing and growing needs of Flint children affected by lead.” The donation will be broken up into $600,000 per year, according to a GM spokesman.

“This crisis has impacted every Flint resident, most specifically children under the age of 6 who face a long road to recovery,” said United Way of Genesee County CEO Jamie Gaskin. “We’re outlining a framework that will support these children with things like at-home care, nutritional assistance and early childhood and supplemental education so they can continue to learn and grow.”

The announcement comes less than a week after UAW President Dennis Williams condemned public officials for the Flint water fiasco – and consumer advocate Ralph Nader questioned if the automaker did enough to raise awareness after it foundFlint water corroded engine parts at GM’s Flint Engine Operation.

GM spokesman Tom Wickham said the donation has nothing to do with Nader’s public letter on Friday questioning the company’s actions. The automaker did alert city officials of the problem shortly after the problem was found, and its switchover to water from Detroit’s system was reported locally.

“We’ve been in talks with the United Way for a number of weeks now,” he said Tuesday morning. “We were looking to find the right area to support, given all the financial support that has come in.”

That “right area,” the company said, includes early literature programs, support for preschool, nutritional needs, school nursing, before-and after-school programming, increased special education capacity and increased social, emotional and behavioral health school counselors.

UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, who oversees the union’s GM Department, has been very vocal about the union supporting the children of Flint amid the city’s water problems.

“We know that this crisis requires long-term commitment that focuses on those things that Flint families can do to mitigate their exposure to tainted water,” she said in a Tuesday news release. “Whether it is filters, medical care, educational resources or nutritional resources, this partnership can have a lasting impact.”

Estrada even used an introduction speech for President Barack Obama in Detroit last month to condemn public officials, saying unfortunately Michigan and Flint officials weren’t “motivated” by their morale responsibilities like Obama was when he supported the $85 billion auto bailout of GM and Chrysler Group LLC.

“My children ... they will have a future because of you Mr. President. We can’t thank you enough,” she said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t seen that kind of thinking in Flint, Michigan, where it seems that the state of Michigan and its appointed, not democratically elected emergency, focused more on the bottom line than it did on the community safety and of our children.”

UAW chapters throughout Michigan and the Midwest have volunteered to help Flint residents by supplying clean water, volunteering and donating money.

GM declined to comment about how much of the $3 million donation it is providing compared to the union.

The automaker’s philanthropic foundation earlier donated $50,000 to the United Way of Genesee County to purchase water filters for residents days after the state announced in October 2015 that it would take action in response to high lead levels.

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