By Jan Worth-Nelson
Even before the water crisis hit, U.S Representative Dan Kildee reminded about 100 members of the Flint Recovery Group Aug. 4 under the dome at City Hall, Flint was already “one mistake from a crisis.”
And in the devastating wake of a whole series of mistakes and misdeeds, Flint is just one example – a portentous one — of what happens to what he said some view as “throwaway cities” around the country that have been marginalized and “subject to a kind of austerity” that weakens their ability to respond to challenges.
He urged the group, representatives of many social service agencies, churches and water advocacy groups who have been meeting weekly since January, to pay attention to “the preconditions of our crisis,” adding, “this is not about water alone.”
He said “the way we are funding municipal needs is unsustainable,” adding that even though before the water crisis many things were improving in the city, “we were a long way from turning the corner.”
Kildee has suggested in the past that struggling cities like Flint have been blamed for their own difficulties, but that “it was almost entirely a result of decisions made at the state and federal level to undermine the economic viability of these cities in the first place.”
However, with Richard Baird, Gov. Rick Snyder’s “transformation manager” for the water crisis sitting nearby, Kildee called for pragmatic neutrality about the matter of who or what is to blame.
While some response strategies been built on the assumption that the state and federal governments share blame equally for what happened in Flint, Kildee asserted, “that is not my view.”
“We could have that argument for the next ten years,” he stated, but urged that work needs to go on anyway.
“If a house is on fire you don’t call a city council meeting to talk it over,” he said. “You do what you have to do to put out the fire.”
Acknowledging the recent criminal charges filed by six state employees by the state Attorney General’s office, Kildee noted there are many routes to justice for Flint – including not just criminal charges but strategies dealing with long-term recovery, economic hits, and civil suits for victims’ compensation.
He outlined in an accompanying handout a list of federal resources designated for Flint, including:
- $121 million from the Department of Health and Human Services for expanded Medicaid services, child development, Head Start, blood lead level testing, and mental health support
- $80 million from the EPA for infrastructure support and grants to Virginia Tech for continued water sampling and testing.
- $27.5 million from the Department of Agriculture for expanded SNAP benefits for 15,000 children over the summer and to purchase fruits and vegetables for 1,200 students.
- $20 million from the Department of Transportation to assist with reconstruction and water main replacement and rebuild portions of Flint’s three major roadways
- $16.3 million from the Department of Labor for a “temporary dislocated worker grant to pay 400 workers responding to the water crisis, apprenticeships and AmericaCorps volunteers.
- $400,000 for the Small Business Administration for small business loans and development in Flint.
One centerpiece of Kildee’s attempted political response is his Families of Flint Act ((HR 4479), introduced in February with 172 co-sponsors. It remains stalled in the House despite his attempts to bring it up for a vote; further efforts now will have to await the end of Congress’s summer recess.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.