Even though the Flint water crisis has slipped from the national headlines, the nightmare is still very real for Flint families. On August 14, the official "federal emergency" declaration expired in Flint, but many residents still don’t have safe drinking water, and can’t trust the water that comes from their tap. Promised funding from Congress may or may not come through. What’s more, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has yet to be held accountable.
No child should have to write a letter like this, as Flint activist Melissa May’s son did. These families deserve justice.
Last week the families of Flint took a couple steps closer to getting justice: a move toward federal funding from Congress, and an investigation by the Michigan Department on Civil Rights (MDCR). Neither of these are solutions to the ongoing crisis, but they’re important steps toward restoring clean water and ensuring justice for the affected families.
Congressional Democrats made a stand on a budget bill that included funding to fight the Zika virus and provide relief to flood victims in Louisiana. They insisted on including relief for Flint as well, and ultimately the House included $170 million in aid to Flint in an amendment to a water resources bill. This may seem like a major victory – and Governor Snyder, among others, has hailed it as one – but the people of Flint are more skeptical. This funding isn’t guaranteed until the House bill is reconciled with the Senate’s, and could still be lost in negotiations.
If this funding does make it through to the final bill, it could provide significant support for Flint. But permanently fixing Flint’s water system will take far more than $170 million – and after two years without safe water from the tap, they deserve a swift and permanent fix.
It’s critical that we restore safe water to Flint, but at the same time, we need to hold accountable the people who got Flint into this situation, and make sure this outrage never happens in any community again. The Michigan Department on Civil Rights (MDCR) is investigating the role that environmental injustice played in the Flint water crisis. Last week, over 4,600 Food & Water Watch supporters stood with the people of Flint by calling on MDCR to hold the people responsible for this crisis accountable, particularly Governor Snyder – joining the tens of thousands who have called for justice over the past year.
Snyder’s actions led directly to the current situation. After the Governor's appointed emergency manager made disastrous decisions about the city’s water system, residents were left to deal with poisoned water, skyrocketing water bills, and new financial burdens to pay for filters and water bottles. In a city where over half of the population is made up of people of color and roughly 40 percent of residents are living in poverty, the state stripped away local control from Flint residents, putting costs before their lives.
At the end of March, Governor Snyder's own taskforce evaluated the Flint water crisis and found that Flint residents "did not enjoy the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards as that provided to other communities," and concluded that "this is a case of environmental injustice." We know the crisis would not have unfolded the same way had Flint been a more affluent community with more political power.
As Flint families and local organizations continue to work to make sure safe water returns to Flint, the MDCR's ruling is critical. The commission will make recommendations based on the public comments they have received and have the authority to initiate an enforcement process if they determine that civil rights have been violated. Michigan’s Attorney General’s office, the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency are also investigating who should be held responsible for the Flint water crisis. So far, nine state and local employees have been charged for their roles in causing or covering up the Flint water crisis. But Governor Snyder is still free and clear. We’re waiting to see whether MDCR will hold him accountable.
We cannot stand by and let this injustice occur, or allow Flint to become a dangerous precedent for the response to crisis in communities of color. And while we work to hold Governor Snyder and others in his administration accountable, we’re also working to make sure no other community has to go through what Flint has. One way we’re protecting communities’ water is by working to pass the WATER Act, which would help replace aging water pipes, including lead pipes, across the country. You can help: ask your members of Congress to support the WATER Act.