Flint mayor calls $28M aid plan ‘a very good start’

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said Wednesday the $28 million supplemental budget package proposed Tuesday by Gov. Rick Snyder is a “very good start” but “we didn’t deserve what happened to us, and we deserve more resources.”

A state House committee approved the $28 million proposal Wednesday morning, and it may get a floor vote as soon as Wednesday afternoon. Snyder has said he will make a more comprehensive funding plan for Flint’s contaminated water crisis in the state budget proposal he plans to deliver in early February.

The state has a $575 million surplus.

“The state has a Rainy Day Fund. This is a rainy day in the City of Flint. Actually it’s raining cats and dogs, and we need that money to be directed to the City of Flint,” Weaver said.

“We have an infrastructure and a public health crisis going on at the same time, so we’ve got to be looking at the cost of the human suffering, and the human needs.”

In remarks to the press before a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Weaver said she felt “really good” about her meeting Tuesday with President Barack Obama and senior advisers at the White House. Obama declared a federal emergency that sends up to $5 million to help address Flint’s contaminated water.

“We talked about some things that the federal government could assist us with, and those things are already starting to happen,” Weaver said.

The mayor said neither the city nor the state can handle the situation financially, and that’s why she has sought federal assistance.

“The state has a huge amount of money,” Weaver added. “I would like to see more (federal support), but the state needs to do their part first.”

The White House has said Obama will not visit Flint Wednesday as part of his trip to Detroit to meet residents and tour the North American International Auto Show in the city. Weaver said the president would meet sometime with Snyder; a Snyder spokesman said the governor does not have a Wednesday meeting scheduled with Obama.

In a meeting with reporters on Air Force One, Obama spokesman Eric Schultz said the president met with Weaver Tuesday and “wants to make sure we are marshaling all the resources of the federal government.”

Schultz was asked whether Snyder, a Republican, should resign for the water contamination crisis — something suggested by some liberal activists.

“Our view is right now everybody should be focused on the actual problem,” he said, echoing what Snyder has said.

On Wednesday, Weaver joined Democratic U.S. Sens. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township and Debbie Stabenow of Lansing in meeting with Dr. Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary of preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to a release. She was tapped this week to lead the federal recovery effort in Flint.

The department plans to send two public health services officers to Flint and create operation centers in both the city and Washington, D.C., according to Peters’ office.

The city is still asking why it took so long for state and federal regulators to acknowledge the problem and take action, Weaver said.

“That’s what we want to know: What took so long? Because it didn’t take a scientist to tell us that brown water is not good,” she said. “In April, this will have been going on for two years.”

Weaver said she was glad that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the weekend drew more national attention to the lead-contamination of drinking water in Flint and said she agreed with Clinton that the situation wouldn’t have happened in an affluent Detroit suburb. She also endorsed Clinton’s presidential run on Tuesday.

“Yes, that is something that we believe. It’s a minority community, it’s a poor community, and our voices were not heard, and that’s part of this problem,” Weaver said.

“The citizens spoke out about this shortly after the switch was made to the Flint River water (in 2014) and nothing was done.”

Weaver said the state is ultimately responsible and “the buck stops with the governor,” but blame for the catastrophe lies up and down the chain of command. “Let the investigation show who knew what, where and when,” she added.

Asked about Snyder’s announcement that he’ll release emails from his administration regarding its handling of the Flint water crisis, Weaver said, “It’s a start.”

“The governor doing that is a good first step because he’s going to have to regain trust and confidence,” she said.

“Trust was broken over a period of time, and you don’t regain trust over a matter of seconds because a statement was made. That’s something he’s going to have to work on over a long, long time.”

Weaver noted the Environmental Protection Agency’s admission Tuesday that it wasn’t aggressive enough in dealing with state regulators in Michigan, but “they’re being very aggressive right now.”

To make the water safe in Flint, the city needs new infrastructure, starting with replacing the lead service lines, Weaver said. She also wants to see more public education of parents, so they know how to look for possible developmental delays and other warning signs of lead exposure in their children.

“It’s had a great economic impact because people leave. They can’t afford the water. It’s devastating companies, restaurants. ... people want to know – what water is this food being cooked in?” Weaver said.

Weaver and her husband haven’t been affected by the lead contamination, she said, because she decided not to drink the water after the switch to the Flint River.

“It’s sad that I would say, ‘Thank God my kids are grown and not there,’ but not everybody can say that, and we shouldn’t have to say that,” she said.


Staff Writer Chad Livengood contributed.