Congressional Democrats to tour effects of Flint water crisis
A group of Democratic Congressional leaders are set to tour Flint to find out more about the effects of the water crisis and try to find out what is needed as the city moves forward in its recovery process.
The Friday, July 20, visit is scheduled to include hearing from Flint residents, observing pipe replacement with Mayor Karen Weaver, and meeting with local business leaders, nonprofit organizations, and members of the philanthropic community.
U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, is leading the group set to include House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn, and U.S. Reps. Sandy Levin, D-Royal Oak, Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, Barbara Lee, D-California, Ben Ray Lujan, D-New Mexico, Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, Denny Heck, D-Washington, Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, Dwight Evans, D-Pennsylvania, and Jared Huffman, D-California.
"Many of them have been here, but for some, it's the first time," said Kildee Monday afternoon.
It will mark the fifth tour led by Kildee for Congress members, but he pointed out this visit will take them on a new path.
"The main purpose (of the visit) is to let my colleagues know that we are not done yet and there is more work to do," said Kildee, noting many of them "stepped up" to push for $170 million in federal aid in September 2016 to help replace pipes, expand health care, establish the Center for Lead Excellence, and create the Flint lead exposure registry.
Kildee stressed the need for a "more firm commitment for the ongoing support that President Barack Obama delivered" when he signed off on the funding as well as the continued partnership with the federal government.
"What I want my colleagues to see first-hand is the Flint water crisis was not just about water," he said, adding it's also an issue of federal and state policy leaving older, industrial communities behind and lawmakers need to understand their struggles to help.
Part of the change needs to be diversifying the economy that Kildee argued can be accomplished by focusing on people and their skills not only from early childhood and K-12 education but also technical training and providing access to college.
He also saw the need in "cleaning up the reminder of our past" in regard to blight that would help to "create an environment" where entrepreneurs may flourish in the future.
"We need the federal government to recognize there are challenges these older cities face," said Kildee. "We are all paying a heavy price for what happened. The state government and federal government are paying a heavy price and city residents are paying a price for what happened."
The continued price on the state's end, Kildee argued, should include bottled water until all pipes are replaced.
"I think it's important to keep in mind the city of Lansing did it and it took them 10 years," he noted of pipe replacements in the state's capital. "We're trying to do in three years."
More than 6,200 pipes have been replaced by contractors since 2016. The city has committed to replacing 18,000 pipes by 2020 as part of the mayor's Fast Start replacement program.
"I feel like the city has now sort of hit its stride and is working pretty well," Kildee said. "The other question is: what do we do until then?"
He opposed the state ending bottled water distribution in April to city residents after the Department of Environmental Quality deemed the city's water quality restored.
The latest test results released in June showed Flint's 90th percentile for lead was 6 parts per billion in the first six months of the year, up since the state stopped bottled water deliveries to the city in April.
At that time, DEQ said testing had registered 4 ppb. The federal action level for lead is 15 ppb.