Child’s letter stirs President Obama to visit Flint and see water crisis firsthand
Washington — President Barack Obama is planning to visit Flint on May 4 to spotlight the city’s lead-contaminated water that has deprived the city’s 100,000 residents of reliable access to drinking and bathing water.
A White House official said Obama will travel to Flint next week to “hear first-hand from Flint residents about the public health crisis, receive an in-person briefing on the federal efforts in place to help respond to the needs of the people of Flint, and deliver remarks to community members.”
The White House said Obama planned the trip after receiving an email from an 8-year-old Flint resident who asked to meet him while she was in Washington to attend congressional hearings last month about the city’s water crisis.
Flint Mayor Karen Weaver welcomed Obama’s trip and indicated she would lobby for more aid for the beleaguered residents of her city, some of whom are living on bottled water.
“We’ve been wanting him to come to the city because you do get a whole other perspective of what’s going on when you come and visit it first hand,” Weaver said after meeting with lawmakers at the Capitol in Lansing.
Proposed aid in Congress has stalled, although new Senate legislation including up to $220 million for Flint and other communities is scheduled for a Thursday hearing. Snyder has proposed $165 million in state assistance for Flint, with $30 million already approved as supplemental spending to reduce residents’ water bills.
So far, the rest of the proposed spending has been going through the normal budget approval process, which means additional assistance might not flow until June at the earliest.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder said Wednesday it’s unlikely he would join the outgoing Democratic president in Flint.
“I’ve got a pretty full schedule next week. That’s not currently a day I’m scheduled to be in Flint,” Snyder said in a telephone interview with The Detroit News from Zurich, Switzerland, one of his stops in a week-long European trade mission.
The White House identified the Flint child who motivated Obama’s scheduled visit as Amariyanna Copeny.
“I am one of the children that is (affected) by this water and I've been doing my best to march in protest and to speak out for all the kids that live here in Flint,” Copeny wrote, according to a copy of the email that was released by the White House.
“I know this is (probably an) odd request but I would love for a chance to meet you or your wife,” Copeny continued. “My mom said chances are you will be to busy with more important things but there is a lot of people coming on these buses and even just a meeting from you or your wife would really lift peoples spirits.”
Obama responded in a letter to Copeny that he would travel to Flint to see the damage from the water crisis himself.
“You’re right that Presidents are often busy, but the truth is, in America, there is no more important title than citizen,” the president wrote. “And I am so proud of you for using your voice to speak out on behalf of the children of Flint.
“That’s why I want you to be the first to know that I’m coming to visit Flint on May 4th,” Obama continued. “I want to make sure people like you and your family are receiving the help you need and deserve. Like you, I’ll use my voice to call for change and help lift up your community.”
The trip will be Obama’s first visit to Flint since the city’s water crisis became a national story. He visited Detroit in January to attend the Detroit auto show and pledged “have the backs of Flint's people” during a speech there.
“I know that if I was a parent up there (in Flint), I would be beside myself that my kids’ health could be at risk,” Obama said at the time. “ It is a reminder of why you can’t shortchange basic services that we provide to our people and that we, together, provide as a government to make sure that the public health and safety is preserved.”
U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, said he welcomes Obama’s visit nearly four months after the president declared a state of emergency in Flint.
“All Americans should be focused on the ongoing public health emergency,” Kildee said Wednesday in a statement. “A city of 100,000 people continues to not have safe drinking water and has been exposed to high levels of lead. As a nation, and as Americans, we must come together to help Flint families recover from this terrible tragedy.”