Economy

Senator Holds Up Aid For Flint Because Residents ‘Have All The Government Resources They Need’

CREDIT: AP Photo/Molly Riley

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)

A bipartisan aid package to send $100 million to help the residents of Flint, Michigan deal with the widespread contamination that is still plaguing their drinking water, as well as funds for other communities that may have similar issues, is being held up by at least one Republican senator.

Sen. Mike Lee (UT) still has a hold in place on the bill, his office confirmed to ThinkProgress. In his initial announcement on Friday, Lee issued a statement saying “federal aid is not needed at this time,” pointing to the state’s “enormous budget surplus” and a rainy-day fund.

“The people and policymakers of Michigan right now have all the government resources they need to fix the problem,” he said. He also pointed to the “generosity of individuals, businesses, labor unions, and civic organizations” as sources of funding that can go toward fixing the lead pipe problem.

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) had also placed a hold on the bill, although was seeking concessions on the parts of the legislation that weren’t related to Flint. But his office confirmed that he has lifted his hold because his concerns have been addressed.

Lawmakers had sought unanimous consent to vote on an energy bill that the Flint package is being attached to and then proceed immediately to the money to help the city and others that are looking at problems in their own water systems. An aide with Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), one of the leaders of the deal to send aid to Flint, said that he and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) continue to have conversations with Lee and that negotiations over a path forward for the legislation are ongoing, although the process — including the potential to break the Flint package off from the rest of the bill — hasn’t been determined yet.

In a response to Lee’s hold on Friday, Sen. Peters said in a statement, “I’m disappointed Senator Lee would hold up a vote on this critical legislation that is fully paid for when the people of Flint still do not have access to clean, safe water.”

Flint’s mayor has focused on the need to remove and replace all of the city’s lead pipes, given that the corrosive water from the Flint River and the failure to use protective chemicals have eaten away at them and potentially compromised them. But doing so will cost a lot of money: an estimated $55 million. Residents are also demanding relief and reimbursement for paying the highest water bills in the country while the water itself was contaminated.

So far those kinds of funds have not materialized from the state. The state has so far sent just $2 million for pipe removal, leading the city’s mayor to seek a loan from the private sector to jump start the projects. The $30 million in relief money for water bills would only offer a partial credit on bills paid moving forward and debts will be dropped only for bills charged for water that went to drinking, bathing, and cooking.