Michigan Cuts Water Subsidy Program Early with No Notice to Flint Residents

Flint residents paid some of the highest rates in America, even after the city’s water became contaminated.

Flint residents will soon have to pay full price for their water — water that still may be unsafe to drink.

Michigan officials have decided to end the state-funded subsidy program that, since 2014, has helped Flint residents offset the cost of their water bills after the city’s water supply became contaminated with lead, the Detroit Free Press reported. A letter written to Flint’s interim chief financial adviser from Gov. Rick Snyder announced that the subsidies would cease after Feb. 28.

News of the water credit program’s cutoff comes just weeks after the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality announced that Flint’s lead levels had fallen below the federal limit. A six-month study conducted from July 1 until Dec. 31 indicated that lead levels in the city’s water were 12 parts per billion or lower in 90 percent of samples collected from homes with lead and copper plumbing, according to Atlanta Black Star. Compared to the 20-ppb levels recorded in the prior six-month period, Flint’s lead levels vastly improved, coming in at just under the legal federal limit of 15 ppb.

Though the report showed that Flint’s water quality had gotten better, it stopped short of assuring residents it was now safe to drink. In fact, the DEQ has advised that residents continue to utilize bottled water and home water filters for drinking, cooking and bathing.

Reactions among Flint city officials were relatively tepid, but some argued that the program’s stoppage was premature and didn’t give residents time to financially prepare to pay for water that’s still potentially unsafe to drink. A 2016 study by public interest group Food and Water Watch showed that Flint residents paid some of the highest water rates in America — even after its water was tainted.

Some critics asserted that the program’s cutoff was Gov. Snyder’s way of, yet again, downplaying the urgency of the water crisis.

“State officials note the latest six-month cycle of water testing that had results below the federal action level for the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR),” Flint Mayor Karen Weaver said in a statement. “We knew the state’s assistance with these water-related expenses would come to an end at some point; I just wish we were given more notice so we at City Hall and the residents had more time to prepare for the changes.”

In her statement, Weaver also reported that customers of Flint’s water system had received over $40 million in water relief credits since the program began in 2014. Now, not only were credits for the city’s water system being cut, but so were funds for the source water Flint had been receiving from the Great Lakes Water Authority. That water cost close to $1.2 million a month, according to RT.com.

“I want the people of Flint to know we are still fighting for what is right,” Weaver said. “I am disappointed by the announcement from the governor’s office, especially after we were told the credits would last at least until March 31.”

Residents were put on notice this week that the water relief program would soon be cut off, leaving them to pay full price for water that the subsidies once covered; 20 percent to offset commercial water bills and 65 percent for residential water bills. The state said it would continue distributing bottled water and water filters over the next three years as Flint works to replace over 2,000 lead pipes. The city’s website states that residents will still be able to visit the distribution sites to receive free water filters, replacement cartridges, bottled water and home water testing kits.

Flint’s water supply became contaminated in 2014 after city officials, in an effort to cut costs, switched the water supply from Lake Huron to the contaminated Flint River. The corrosive water ate away at the city’s aging lead pipes and caused lead to leach into the city’s drinking water. The state took months to notify residents that their water had been contaminated.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has since charged 13 government officials for their roles in the water crisis and last week, more than 1,700 Flint residents filed a suit against the EPA for failing to notify them of the contamination.

“I appreciate all the work everyone has done to help the citizens and the city of Flint move forward,” Weaver said. “We will continue working to fully recover from this water crisis and make sure residents have the resources, services and support they need.”

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