Congress Gridlocks, Aid For Flint Michigan Blocked

Congress has delayed a bill that would have provided aid for Flint, Michigan, which has been devastated by a water crisis. The man most responsible for holding up the bill, Republican Senator Mike Lee from Utah, claims other politicians are “grandstanding,” using the Flint crisis to direct federal funding to their own states and to “federalize” the nation’s water infrastructure.

According to NBC News, the $220 million package would provide $100 million for “drinking water state revolving funds” that would go to any state facing a drinking water emergency (a provision directed at Flint). $70 million would go to water infrastructure loans, and another $50 million would go to preventing and addressing lead poisoning.

Sen. Lee insists this bill isn’t an “aid package” and Michigan has not requested assistance.

“What is happening to the people of Flint, Michigan is a man-made disaster. Congress has special mechanisms for emergency spending when it is needed, but to date Michigan’s governor has not asked us for any, nor have Michigan’s Senators proposed any. Contrary to media reports, there is no federal ‘aid package’ for Flint even being considered.”

He went on to say that Michigan has plenty of its own money to provide aid for Flint.

“The state of Michigan has an enormous budget surplus this year and a large rainy-day fund, totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The Senator’s hold will no longer make it eligible for a speedy consideration. Instead, the delay will have to be bypassed through Congressional procedures, which means it will be reviewed late next week at the earliest.

Senator Mike Lee speaking with Republican colleagues on funding legislation. [Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]
Senator Mike Lee speaking with Republican colleagues on funding legislation. [Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow from Michigan, the legislation’s sponsor, was reportedly surprised and disappointed that Lee blocked the bill, saying that it had bipartisan support and would have helped his state as well.

Senator Ted Cruz also blocked the Flint bill, but eventually dropped his hold, leaving Lee as the only remaining obstacle.

The Flint crisis started roughly two years ago, when state officials had a series of missteps that led to the town’s water supply being switched from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the corrosive Flint River. The water then corroding lead pipes, contaminating drinking water with the dangerous element. There were a number of warning signs that the water was dangerous, but they were ignored.

Some have called for the arrest of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. Others say he should resign over the scandal, including current Democratic Presidential Candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

The two held a debate in Flint, Michigan on Sunday, discussing aid for the community and a variety of other topics. Sanders called for Snyder’s resignation about six weeks ago according to the Daily Mail; Clinton called for his resignation for the first time in Sunday’s debate.

Sanders and Clinton are united in their calls for Governor Snyders resignation.
Sanders and Clinton are united in their calls for Governor Snyders resignation.

The Republican Governor live-tweeted his response, saying that Sanders and Clinton will leave Michigan tomorrow, but he’ll still be there to clean up.

“My track record is getting things done, and I want to get this done.”

Still, Senator Lee is correct that the State of Michigan has had a budget surplus for sometime, and has been storing money away in its “budget stabilization fund” also called its “rainy day fund” in official documents. According to the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, Michigan deposited about $111 million into the fund in 2015, which had a total of roughly $498 million. By the end of 2016, the rainy day fund is projected to top $600 million, more than Congress’s entire nation-wide water funding bill.

Nevertheless, charity money continues to flow into the community according to the New York Times. Celebrities have thrown benefit concerts, grade school classrooms have raised money, and there are about 100 separate GoFundMe projects to send aid to Flint. But the money to provide a long-term solution for Flint remains “far off.”

For now, the federal government is blocked from sending aid to Flint, but some help is still on the way, even if comes directly from the people.

[Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images]