Michigan governor Rick Snyder is set to propose a plan to get $30 million in state funding to help residents of Flint through a water crisis. Tests late October found high levels of lead in the blood samples of children in Flint after the city switched its tap water source from a Detroit system to the Flint River in April 2014.
Snyder is set to give a brief to officials in Flint about the plan Wednesday, and will next week present it to lawmakers, as a part of the budget proposal for 2017, according to a statement from Snyder’s office sent to the Associated Press (AP). The aid will cover part of residential customers’ utility bills for the water to be used for drinking cooking, bathing and washing hands, but customers would need to pay bills for flush toilets, lawns, laundry and other purposes.
“Flint residents will not have to pay for water they cannot drink,” Republican governor Snyder said in the statement to AP, adding: “My budget recommendation will include the request that the state make payments to the city's water system for residential bills going back to April 2014 and alleviate the need for residential water shutoffs.”
Residents in the city have so far complained about the odor, taste and appearance of the water, and have also reported rashes, hair loss and other problems, AP reported. Snyder had promised to present a plan on unpaid bills within a week, when he met pastors in Flint last week. He met with lawmakers Tuesday to discuss the proposal. The crisis has so far led to the declaration of an emergency in the state.
Snyder has repeatedly apologized for the mistakes that led to the city’s drinking water supply pipes to be contaminated by lead. According to Snyder’s office, cited by AP, the to-be-proposed $30 million in Consumption and Consumer Use Credit will cover a two-year period from April 2014 until the spring, when officials hope that the water will be safe for use without filters. The credit is reportedly available because of a one-time surplus budget of $575 million.
About 21,000 customers are estimated to get a credit for 65 percent of the water for their combined water and sewer bill. This will also include those who have moved away, AP reported. The other 9,000 residential customers, who have arrears, will be included in a payment plan to pay for sewer charges and 35 percent of their water fees, potentially over a period of years. Commercial customers and businesses will get a credit of 20 percent for their water bill.
A civil lawsuit was filed over the issue over the weekend, making it at least the sixth so far. The lawsuit sought compensatory and punitive damages and class action status for about 30,000 customers, who paid or were billed for the contaminated water.
On Tuesday, the FBI announced that it was joining a criminal investigation over the Flint water crisis to see if any laws were broken. The FBI is now working with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Inspector General and the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division to probe into the crisis.
Marc Edwards, a professor at Virginia Tech University who helped expose the lead problem in September, said, according to AP: “It's hard to find moral justification in having (residents) pay for water that is not suitable for consumption nor, until recently, for bathing. This essentially refunds all the money associated with consumption or consumer use. I think it's an amazing gesture of common sense and goodwill, and it corrects an injustice.”