“I’m here for my children.”
That’s why Nakiya Wakes, a mother of two children who stays home to take care of her daughter’s epilepsy, took time out of her life to travel the hour’s drive between her home city of Flint and Michigan’s state capitol in Lansing on Wednesday. Both of her children have tested positive for lead in their blood. Wakes may also have been referring to two children she hoped to have: she miscarried twins in July of last year, which she attributes to drinking tap water contaminated with lead and other chemicals.
Wakes was one of a number of Flint residents who protested at the capitol as Gov. Rick Snyder (R) released this year’s budget proposal. In it was $195 million dedicated to the city’s needs, spread across different agencies for different issues. It includes $37 million for safe drinking water efforts, although does not mention replacing the city’s lead pipes specifically; $63 million to improve the physical and educational wellbeing of Flint’s children and vulnerable residents through testing and educational services; $30 million to reimburse residents for part of the cost they’ve borne for continuing to be billed for contaminated water since early 2014; $15 million for food and nutrition to combat lead exposure; and $50 million in a reserve fund for future needs. The budget also calls for $25 million in infrastructure spending in Flint.
All of those funds would come on top of the $37.4 million that the legislature has already approved for Flint this year.
Progress Michigan, a nonprofit organizing group, doesn’t think that goes far enough. “This man-made crisis is unprecedented and needs an unprecedented response to make it right. However, his budget proposal lacks the funds needed to replace all the lead pipes in Flint and still requires residents to pay for poisoned water,” Lonnie Scott, executive director, said in a statement. “The legislature needs to rework this budget to ensure people have clean water flowing into their homes as soon as possible and restore the funding that they’ve systematically stripped from our communities and schools to provide unaccountable tax giveaways for corporations.”
It also doesn’t go far enough for Wakes. She wants to see all of Flint’s lead pipes ripped out and replaced, something that the city’s mayor Karen Weaver has estimated will cost $55 million.
She wants residents to be reimbursed for all, not part, of the water bills they’ve been paying since the water source was switched in April of 2014, some of the highest in the country. Her most recent bill was for $120, but she refuses to pay more than $20. “I’ve been paying for two years for poison, and I refuse to pay the whole bill,” she said. Meanwhile, although she gets bottled water from fire stations and churches that are handing it out for free, she still has to buy water on top of that to have enough for her family.
And she wants to be ensured that the costs of long-term medical care for children like hers who have lead poisoning will be taken care of. “We need long-term care for these children, we need health care,” she said. Her son is already experiencing the effects, she says: he’s frequently been suspended from school since the water problem started and is currently suspended for about a week. “They’re kicking him out every other day,” she said. “I really feel like [the water] has caused my son to be worse because of the lead situation.”
Even with those steps, however, she says she still wants to see Snyder resign. And she’ll never drink tap water again. “I’m going to be on bottled water everywhere now,” she said.
This story has been updated to include a statement from Progress Michigan.