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Families Who Left Flint Not Eligible to Receive New Benefits, Even If Their Children Were Affected

Sincere Smith, who was 2 at the time, and his family lived in Flint at the peak of the city’s water contamination crisis. (Photo by Regina H. Boone/ Detroit Free Press)

Thousands of children in Flint, Mich., are expected to receive extra money this month for healthy foods to fight the effects of lead exposure. Children whose families fled the lead-contaminated city, however, won’t be so lucky.

The crippling effects of Flint’s water crisis prompted a number of families to move from the city in an effort to protect themselves and their little ones from the tainted water. Little did they know that the decision to move would make their children ineligible to receive almost $7 million in additional food assistance — even if their child’s health was impacted by the crisis.

“If I had moved to another state, I could understand being treated differently and everything, but moving just 15 minutes away, I feel like … it’s kind of unfair,” said Ariana Hawk, 27, the mother of 4-year-old Sincere Smith, who became the face of Flint’s water crisis after he appeared on the January 2016 cover of Time Magazine.

“I’m still within Genesee County,” Hawk added.

She told The Detroit Free Press she felt that all children affected by the crisis should be able to receive the new benefits, even if they do not live in the city anymore or aren’t eligible for food assistance benefits.

Hawk moved her family to city of Swartz Creek in May of last year after ongoing issues with the city’s water, which caused her baby boy, 2 years old at the time, to develop dry, itchy patches all over his skin, the newspaper reported. The family unknowingly drank, bathed and cooked with the tainted water for months before the contamination issue was brought to light.

Now, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is working to provide added food assistance to nearly 15,000 children who qualify for food assistance benefits and still reside in Flint. Department spokesman Bob Wheaton said that eligibility was based on the most effective way the state felt it could allocate its limited funds. Essentially, the money would go to Flint families who needed it most, rather than families who moved away, like Hawk and her kids.

“We decided that we wanted to focus on providing this nutritional food to people who are still living in Flint,” Wheaton told The Detroit Free Press.

To qualify, residents must have lived in a Flint ZIP code identified as being served by the city of Flint water system on Feb. 28, and still live in an eligible ZIP code as of April 1, local news station WNEM reported. State officials said eligible families will receive a one-time payment of $420 per eligible child, which will then be loaded onto their “Bridge,” or federal assistance, cards. That money can then be used to purchase nutritious food items that qualify under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the local paper reported.

The MDHHS also suggested that benefit recipients purchase foods high in calcium, vitamin C and iron.

The additional food assistance “would help me out a lot, me and my kids,” said Hawk, who plans to move back to Flint now that the water crisis is seemingly under control.

There’s no exact date for when the benefit payments will be issued, but a letter from MDHHS to an eligible family said the department is shooting for sometime this month.

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