Editorial: Flint must remain a priority

The Detroit News

President Barack Obama’s visit to Flint last week highlights various needs still nagging at the city and its residents. Four months after the full extent of the city’s water contamination crisis was revealed, many residents still avoid drinking or using the water, and money that was promised hasn’t shown up.

Both the Legislature and Congress are working on proposals that would provide much-needed funds for Flint. And though the blame game is still going around, both the president and Gov. Rick Snyder acknowledged the massive failure of government at all levels.

Now it’s up to both of them to fix it—and to help Flint get those funds.

Obama’s press secretary said the president’s trip was to ensure “that the federal government is living up to its obligations to its citizens.”

That’s the right mentality, but it begs the question why EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy was so brazenly also in attendance on the trip. McCarthy was at Obama’s side for much of the day, which demonstrated a vote of confidence from the president in an agency that has failed to protect residents throughout the country from contaminated water.

Flint isn’t the only city dealing with an aged water infrastructure. About 2,000 cities throughout the country have been put on alert for elevated lead levels in their water since the Flint crisis began.

That’s why the federal funding proposals for this issue are so critical. And while it’s understandable some members of Congress want to practice fiscal restraint, infrastructure and water safety aren’t the right areas to begin with.

The U.S. Senate could vote as early as next week on a $220 million package that includes low-cost loans for Flint to pay for lead pipe removal. It recently cleared the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

The $100 million subsidized loan program would be for lead pipe replacement and fixing damaged water lines, and only applies to any state that receives a federal emergency declaration due to lead or other contaminants in a public drinking water supply. The drinking water revolving fund loans could be converted into a forgivable loan.

The Flint provision has a decent chance of making it through with the rest of the legislation, the Water Resources Development Act, which is typically reauthorized every couple years to approve projects for the Army Corps of Engineers.

The state has spent $67 million in tax dollars so far on Flint, and the House and Senate are pushing forward different provisions that will provide at least $100 million in supplemental funding for the city, plus whatever comes through in the 2017 budget.

The state has reassured people almost all the water supply is safe—Snyder has even committed to drinking it for several weeks, and Obama took a sip this week—but you can’t blame them for not trusting assurances from the state and from the EPA.

As Obama’s visit showed, Flint must continue to be a priority for all the units of government that so clearly failed it.