By Jan Worth-Nelson
Contacted after Flint Mayor Karen Weaver and the city’s congressional delegation called for the State of Michigan to contribute more to the city’s water crisis recovery efforts, Richard Baird, senior advisor to Governor Rick Snyder and “transformation manager,” a familiar face and voice in Flint since early this year, had an answer of his own.
Baird, a Flint native who has called himself “the godfather of Flint” since he landed in town for water crisis coordinating and communication activities, noted that the state “has already appropriated $234 million for Fint directly.” He contended the state “has increased funding toward Flint by many millions more through existing statewide programs.”
He said the state “has proven its commitment to be a strong partner with the city and will continue to work closely with the city and community leadership on many fronts to address the challenges that remain.”
Baird said State Senate Bill 800, the omnibus appropriations bill for 2016-2017 signed by the governor Dec. 14, would provide for additional supplemental budget funding, including $8 million that would among other items extend the pilot expansion of the Child Development and Care Program for children age birth to three.
“I am very glad the federal government has ‘stepped up’ nearly a year after Governor Snyder’s request for a declaration of emergency,” Baird commented in an email, reflecting a sore point between the state and the federal government last January when the Obama administration opted not to declare Flint a “major disaster” and determined the amounts and speed of assistance the federal government would make available.
In December, 2015, a month after she was elected, Mayor Karen Weaver declared a State of Emergency as the full dimension of the water crisis began to unfold. On the City’s website, Weaver wrote that the declaration was a response to “a man-made disaster caused by the City switching to the Flint River as a water source in 2014.” She detailed the now familiar story that “This switch has resulted in elevated lead levels in drinking water which prompted both the City and the County Health department to issue a health advisory” and urged residents to get their water tested as regularly as possible and not consume City water without using a filter.
Genesee County officials followed by declaring an emergency Jan. 4, 2016, and the State of Michigan followed with a declaration on Jan. 5. On Jan. 12, the Governor activated the National Guard to assist with water and filter distribution to Flint water customers, a move that alienated some in the city who did not want military personnel in uniforms coming to their doorsteps uninvited.
On Jan. 16, President Obama declared a state of emergency in response to the water crisis. But while the action authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to “coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency” in Genesee County and opened up $5 million in federal aid to help provide water, filters, and other items for up to 90 days to residents whose water had been contaminated, it was not all that Gov. Snyder, a Republican, wanted.
A disaster declaration, as opposed to a declared “state of emergency,” would have freed up more federal aid, but as the New York Times reported at the time, Flint’s situation did not qualify because it was a man-made disaster. At the time, Snyder requested $96 million in water crisis relief aid — just a bit under the amount directly allocated to Flint by Congress last week.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.