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Impoverished Flint, Mich. gets US$165M boost from state budget

The city's nearly 100,000 residents have been living under a public health emergency for nearly eight months



LANSING, Mich.—Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a $38.6 billion budget bill that will more than triple state spending on the water emergency in Flint.

Expenditures on the lead-tainted water crisis will total at least $240 million. That is about $165 million more than the $75 million previously approved by the governor and lawmakers, according to a legislative fiscal analysis.

The impoverished city—whose nearly 100,000 residents have been living under a public health emergency for nearly eight months—will use some money to begin replacing thousands of underground lead pipes that connect water mains with houses and buildings. Other aid will go toward ongoing water bill credits that residents and businesses receive dating from April 2014, when Flint’s water supply was switched to the local river to save money, through whenever the emergency ends. The city was under state management at the time of the switch.

People are using faucet filters and bottled water until the tap water is declared safe.

The spending also is intended to specifically help children—subsidizing child care, providing healthy food to reduce lead poisoning risks and covering psychotherapy sessions.

Snyder has apologized after a task force said his administration was primarily responsible for the disaster because of decisions made by state environmental regulators and emergency managers. The failure to deploy an anti-corrosion chemical at the time of the switch is considered a catastrophic mistake that enabled lead to leach from aging pipes and into homes.

The Republican governor, who regularly visits Flint for meetings and other events, signed the legislation at a state park in Holland along the Lake Michigan shoreline, 125 miles from Flint. It followed his approval of a $16.1 billion education budget earlier in the week that includes an initial payment toward rescuing and restructuring Detroit’s public school district, which is managed by the state.

While Snyder’s proposed spending on the water crisis is intact, his call for $165 million to upgrade aging drinking water and other infrastructure across Michigan was scaled back drastically—to $5 million—once legislators received lower revenue estimates. There also will be no deposit into the state’s $600 million savings account.

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