Washington — President Barack Obama said Thursday his administration is giving $80 million in aid to Michigan mostly to help repair Flint’s water infrastructure and make the drinking water safe.
Speaking to a gathering of mayors at the White House, the president called the lead contamination of drinking water in Flint an “inexcusable” situation. He noted money recently secured in the bipartisan budget agreement helps cities build water infrastructure.
“We’re going to have that funding available to you by the end of next week, and that includes $80 million for the state of Michigan,” Obama said.
“Our children should not have to be worried about the water that they’re drinking in American cities. That’s not something that we should accept.”
A White House official later said the revolving fund money would be made immediately available. The state will decide how much of the $80 million will be directed to Flint.
In a six-hour Wednesday visit to Detroit, the president pledged that “we will have the backs of Flint’s people.”
“It was encouraging to hear President Obama say that $80 million will be coming to Michigan to help local governments, like the City of Flint, improve their water systems,” Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said in a statement from Washington, D.C. “The residents of Flint could benefit greatly from that type of money. We are waiting to see how much of the $80 million will be allocated to the City of Flint and how much of it will go elsewhere, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
The allocation appears to be separate from Gov. Rick Snyder’s Wednesday appeal of Obama’s rejection of Snyder’s $96 million request for major disaster assistance. Because the Flint water situation is a man-made problem, the president originally declared a federal emergency and extended $5 million in aid.
The Snyder administration welcomed the additional federal assistance.
“We are always grateful for resources from our partners in the federal government to help repair Michigan’s infrastructure,” Snyder spokesman Dave Murray said Thursday. “We remain focused on the people of Flint as we look for federal resources for our efforts to address immediate and long-term challenges the residents will face in a variety of areas.”
Michigan’s Legislature is fast-tracking $28 million in immediate state assistance for purchasing more bottled water and filters, and conducting a host of health, educational and nutritional services for children with lead in their bloodstreams.
“I want to thank President Obama for quickly responding to our request for federal assistance,” U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said in a Thursday statement.
“This is the type of leadership and action my community deserves,” Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said in a statement about the $80 million. “These resources will help with immediate health and safety needs while we continue to push for the long-term support the state must provide.”
The infusion of federal money into the state revolving fund allows Michigan to make low-cost loans to eligible municipalities for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure construction, a White House official said.
“States have significant freedom in how they prioritize projects and target assistance,” the official said, but the state of Michigan is expected to devote the money for eligible projects such as improving drinking water treatment and fixing publicly owned pipes.
Michigan has to submit a plan for how it intends to use the money to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 5 office.