The White House budget director signaled today that the administration would support providing federal funds for Flint, Mich., in an emergency supplemental appropriations measure.
Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan said President Obama is open to including aid to help Flint recover from its ongoing drinking water crisis in the $1.8 billion emergency spending request it delivered to Congress this week to combat the Zika virus.
"Look, it’s really up to Congress what path they want to follow," Donovan told Greenwire after meeting with the House Democratic Caucus about the fiscal 2017 budget request. "What I will say is the president and this administration is very supportive of providing what help the federal government can to Flint, and we’re prepared to work with Congress in whatever way they think makes sense on strategy."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) this week suggested that an emergency Zika funding measure could include help for Flint (E&ENews PM, Feb. 8).
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said Donovan affirmed the president’s support for the idea during this morning’s closed-door meeting.
"We need to do something, and we need to do something quickly," Becerra told reporters, noting reluctance on the behalf of Republicans to embrace a $765 million aid package introduced by Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) for his Flint constituents. Republicans should "heed the call" for help for Flint, Becerra added.
Asked whether conversations with GOP leaders about emergency funds for Flint are taking place, Becerra sidestepped the question.
"They’ve got a bill that we’re putting up this week that really is not a solution, and we hope they don’t try to frame that as a solution to the problem," Becerra said of Kildee’s measure (H.R. 4770) to boost EPA’s authority to notify communities of elevated lead levels in drinking water. The bill will be voted on this afternoon.
"It does nothing to get the governor to act," Becerra said. "We hope they will come forward with us on some meaningful action on the federal level, understanding that the real accountability lies with the governor and the state, but we’re ready to act."
Michigan’s GOP governor, Rick Snyder, today announced he’s seeking $195 million to help Flint. Kildee criticized the governor’s response to the situation as "woefully delinquent."
"It’s pretty hard to be appreciative of a less than adequate response to a problem that the state itself created," Kildee said. "They broke my city. They poisoned the kids in the city — and now are trying to provide barely enough to look like they’re trying to solve a problem when they’re not even coming close."
Kildee said he’s pushing for his $765 million package to be included in any supplemental but signaled that he’s open to revisions.
"He’s taken a look at the legislation that I offered and said he likes the direction, but he had some suggestions for maybe other areas," Kildee told Greenwire of his conversation with Donovan. "In truth, we’re open to that. Obviously, we’re trying to move both quickly but to be as thorough as we possibly can be."
‘Man-made disaster area’
Speaking after the meeting, Donovan dismissed criticism from some Republicans that the fiscal 2017 budget request did not specifically ask for assistance for Flint.
"First of all, 2017 is too late," he said. "We need to do something immediately. This is an emergency. Second, unlike Zika, we already have specific legislative proposals both on the Senate and on the House side that are all ready, and so we want to be supportive of that, and we’re prepared to work with whoever is focused on this issue."
Becerra dismissed some suggestions by Republicans, including Snyder, that Flint should be declared a federal disaster area. He said the water crisis does not qualify as a natural disaster under federal law.
"It is a disaster area, but it’s not a natural disaster area; it’s a man-made disaster area," said Becerra, who added that Congress should instead provide those dollars in an emergency supplemental.
The White House has declared Flint a federal emergency and made limited federal services available. The broader declaration would make it eligible for hundreds of millions of emergency dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Kildee said the federal government has found ways to help without a large infusion of cash, most recently approving federal small business loans for Flint businesses affected by the contaminated water.
Becerra stressed that the situation in Flint is a direct result of the state’s action, and it should take responsibility. But, he said, the state has been slow to respond and, as a result, the federal government must step in.
"If the government doesn’t step to the plate," he said, "are we just going to let families in Flint, Michigan, exist with lead in their water?"