Obama grants emergency aid for Flint

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
  • President Barack Obama has declared that an emergency exists in Michigan, the White House said
  • But the president denied Gov. Rick Snyder’s request to also declare a major disaster in Flint
  • Emergency aid is initially limited to $5 million; Obama must alert Congress if more aid is needed

President Barack Obama has declared that an emergency exists in Michigan, the White House said Saturday, but he denied Gov. Rick Snyder’s request to also declare a major disaster in Flint.

Snyder had requested both forms of federal assistance late Thursday, the latest step in an escalating effort to address a drinking water contamination crisis in Flint. The White House on Friday promised quick action. All of Michigan’s 16-member congressional delegation supported the application in a letter to Obama except Rep. Justin Amash, the Grand Rapids area Republican.

The emergency declaration means that the government will help pay for water, water filters, filter cartridges, water test kids and other related items for up to 90 days. Emergency funding is initially limited to $5 million, and the president must alert Congress if additional resources are needed. The state is required to provide a 25 percent match.

Snyder, in his additional request for a major disaster declaration, had asked for up to $96 million for water, supplies and to help residents replace lead pipes on private property. FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate, in a letter to Snyder, said the major disaster request was denied because that type of long-term relief is only available in response to natural events, such as fires and floods.

“I appreciate the president approving my federal emergency request and supporting Flint during this critical situation," Snyder said in a Saturday statement. “I have pledged to use all state resources possible to help heal Flint, and these additional resources will greatly assist in efforts underway to ensure every resident has access to clean water resources.”

"We should all recognize that this Administration moved with unprecedented speed to respond, within 36 hours of receiving the request. The Michigan Congressional delegation is committed and dedicated to working in a bipartisan manner to support those who have championed this issue for the residents of Flint," Rep. Debbie Dingell said in a press release on Saturday.

The president’s emergency declaration authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to identify, mobilize and provide equipment and resources “necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency” on Genesee County residents, according to the White House.

FEMA’s David G. Samaniego will serve as the federal coordinating officer for federal recovery operations in the affected area, and the president is also offering assistance to help identify other ways the federal government could support the recovery effort beyond the emergency declaration.

“I welcome the ‘President’s quick action in support of the people of Flint after months of inaction by the governor,” U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, said in a statement. “The residents and children of Flint deserve every resource available to make sure that they have safe water and are able to recover from this terrible man-made disaster created by the state.”

Documents show the Snyder administration’s original request for major disaster declaration, which was rejected, included:

$54.6 million for the repair of damaged lead service lines on private property.

$10.3 million for 90 days of water.

$31 million for a year’s worth of filters and other water supplies.

Democrats have been harping on the Republican governor to seek federal disaster aid since he declared a state of emergency Jan. 5 in Flint over the crisis, which stems from switching the city’s source of drinking water from the Detroit water system to the Flint River.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality admitted it failed to force the city to treat the water with corrosion controls, which caused old lead connections to leech. All of Flint’s children have been exposed to the lead contamination, Michigan Chief Medical Executive Dr. Eden Wells said this past week.

A Detroit News report showed that Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 officials knew about Flint’s contaminated water for six months starting in February last year but didn’t force the state DEQ to apply corrosive controls as its water expert advised. The state and city finally reconnected Flint to the Detroit water system in mid-October.

In other Saturday developments, the Associated Press reported that singer and actress Cher is donating bottled water to the residents of Flint. The entertainer and Icelandic Water are contributing more than 181,000 bottles of water to help alleviate what she called a “tragedy of staggering proportions.”

The state says since Jan. 9, more than 18,500 cases of water, nearly 46,000 filters and more than 3,200 water kits have been distrubted to Flint residents at their homes and water resource sites. Snyder has said the filters — paid for by an anonymous donor — were distributed after Flint pastors complained to his office about the taste and brownish color of the city’s water.