Gov appeals rejection of Flint disaster funds

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday appealed the Obama administration’s rejection of his request for a major disaster declaration in the Flint area and $96 million in additional federal funding to address the city’s water contamination crisis.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency had rejected Snyder’s original request on the grounds that only natural catastrophes, fires, floods or explosions warrant a major disaster declaration.

“Gov. Snyder believes the water crisis is unique and poses an imminent and long-term threat to the people of Flint,” deputy press secretary Dave Murray said of the appeal. “This is an unusual request, but the severity warrants special consideration as we look to bring resources to help protect the health and welfare of Flint residents and make sure they have safe, clean water as quickly as possible.”

The appeal comes the same day as President Barack Obama, who instead declared a federal emergency in Flint and an initial $5 million in funding, visited Detroit and toured the North American International Auto Show.

Obama met Tuesday with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver in Washington, D.C., and was not expected to visit her city during his trip to Michigan. Snyder, meanwhile, spent the day in Lansing urging legislators to approve his latest request for $28 million in state funding.

In Snyder’s original request for a major disaster declaration, the governor asked for up to $96 million for water, supplies and to help residents replace lead pipes on private property.

Documents show the request 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 for all Flint residents.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator W. Craig Fugate, in a letter to Snyder, said his request for a major disaster declaration was denied because the water contamination “does not meet the legal definition of a ‘major disaster’” under federal law.

But Snyder, in a letter to Obama, asked the president to reconsider that decision.

“This unique disaster poses imminent and long-term threat to the citizens of Flint,” Snyder said. “Its severity warrants special consideration for all categories of the Individual and Public Assistance programs, as well as the Hazard Mitigation program in order to facilitate recovery.”

Flint residents continue to rely on bottled and filtered water after scientists discovered elevated lead levels in the drinking water the blood of some children, a public health crisis precipitated by the city’s switch to the Flint River while under control of a state-appointed emergency manager.

The Legislature approved an initial $9.3 million for Flint in October and Snyder is seeking swift action on a $28 million supplemental funding bill approved Wednesday morning by the House Appropriations Committee.

The governor has ramped up his Flint focus in recent weeks amidst national criticism and calls for his resignation, saying in Tuesday night’s State of the State address that he will commit the last three years of his tenure to fixing the problem.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Tuesday noted there would be a process for considering any appeal from Snyder.

“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.

“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 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.

Melissa Nann Burke contributed