Flint mayor meets with Obama, advisers on water crisis

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — President Barack Obama met Tuesday with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver on the city’s contaminated water crisis and was unlikely to visit Flint on Wednesday during a trip to Detroit, White House officials said.

Weaver visited the White House as part of a trip with a group of newly elected mayors in town for a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said during the daily press briefing. The mayor met with senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Jerry Abramson, according to the White House.

“The president heard firsthand how the residents of Flint are dealing with the ongoing public health crisis, and the challenges that still exist for the city, its residents and the business community,” according to the White House. “The president reiterated that his administration will continue to support state and local officials in their response.”

The Obama administration said Weaver “conveyed personal stories from residents and businesses and the need for trust to be restored.”

Given Weaver’s meetings at the White House, “I would not expect that the president would stop by Flint on his trip to Michigan tomorrow,” Earnest said at his Tuesday daily briefing.

Obama declared Saturday a federal emergency in the Flint area, where residents continue to rely on bottled water and filters because of a lead contamination crisis. It cleared the way for $5 million in federal aid.

“As a newly elected mayor, she’s got a lot of responsibility she’s trying to juggle. We felt it was important for staff at the White House to hear at some length the challenges that are facing the city,” Earnest said.

Obama is to be in Detroit Wednesday to tour the auto show, deliver a speech and meet with residents to see the city’s progress after emerging from bankruptcy at the end of 2014.

While he declared a federal emergency in Flint, Obama denied Gov. Rick Snyder’s request to declare it a major disaster and provide $96 million in assistance, a decision the Snyder administration plans to appeal.

“I’m going to urge reconsideration and whatever other way they can get some funds to help us,” Weaver told The Detroit News on Monday.

Earnest noted that there’s a process for considering Snyder’s appeal.

“Just to be clear about what the law will allow here: A disaster declaration is essentially something that FEMA offers routinely to state and local governments that have sustained a natural catastrophe or a fire, flood or explosion,” Earnest said when asked about the rejection.

“None of those events has occurred in Flint. By statute, it’s going to be difficult to grant that request for a major disaster declaration.”

When asked about the gap of millions of dollars between what Michigan says it needs for Flint and what the administration pledged, Earnest said the White House takes the situation very seriously.

“But the U.S. government also has an obligation to our taxpayers to make sure funds are being spent consistent with the statute and with the law,” Earnest said.

He added that the federal government is mobilizing “significant resources” to support the response on the ground by state and local officials.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has waived requirements on potable tap water availability for school-meal service, permitting schools to provide bottled water, Earnest said.

The Women, Infants and Children program also is allowing participants to use their vouchers for ready-to-feed infant formula, which does not have to be mixed with water. WIC is also letting participants swap powdered formula for the ready-to-feed formula.

In another Tuesday development, Weaver endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president two days after the Democratic White House hopeful shined a national spotlight on Flint’s lead-contaminated water crisis.

Weaver said Clinton is the only presidential candidate from either party who has reached out to her personally to offer assistance to the beleaguered Michigan city of 99,000 residents.

“We want a friend like Hillary in the White House ... because we know this is not going to go away,” Weaver said in a conference call with reporters organized by the Clinton campaign. “And we need a fighter. We need someone there fighting for the city of Flint.”