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Federal emergency aid is ending in Flint. State officials vow to pay for water

By Brady Dennis,

The federal government’s emergency aid to Flint, Mich., comes to an end this weekend. Mayor Karen Weaver has a message she wants to hammer home to residents of her beleaguered city: The free bottled water and filters that they have relied on since learning their drinking water was tainted by lead aren’t going anywhere.

“We’ve had a number of Flint residents express concerns about whether the bottled water and filters will continue to be distributed,” she said at a recent news conference.

Flanked by state and federal officials, Weaver assured residents that the help will continue. The only difference is that the state of Michigan will be picking up the full tab.

“There is a deep concern that the federal government and state are going to pack up and pull out of Flint after August 14,” Capt. Chris Kelenske, Michigan’s deputy director of emergency management and commander in the Michigan State Police, said at the news conference. “I’m here to tell you that that assumption is completely false.”

In March, the federal government agreed to extend an emergency declaration to allow Flint residents to continue to receive supplies of bottled water, filters and other resources as the area continues to face a crisis over contaminated water.

But the Federal Emergency Management Agency made clear at the time that Michigan officials should not expect another round of aid after this summer.

“This is the final extension,” Elizabeth Zimmerman, associate administrator for FEMA’s office of response and recovery, wrote in a letter granting the extension. “No further extensions will be granted.”

The federal emergency declaration has been in place since Jan. 16. It initially was scheduled to expire in April, but Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) sought an extension, saying that the water crisis in Flint, where tens of thousands of people potentially were exposed to lead-tainted drinking water, remains an emergency.

The federal government earlier this year denied Snyder’s request to declare the situation in Flint a major disaster, saying that only natural catastrophes such as fires and floods warrant such a designation. The water crisis in Flint was undoubtedly a disaster but a man-made one.

Since President Obama first authorized federal support in Flint, officials said, FEMA has provided more than 20 million liters of water, more than 243,000 water filter replacement cartridges and 50,000 water and pitcher filters to the city. Under the presidential declaration, the federal government had been picking up 75 percent of cost of the relief effort, with the state paying 25 percent. After Sunday, Michigan will be responsible for the total cost of water supply purchases

Michigan officials have vowed to continue providing filters, replacement cartridges, bottled water and home water testing kits to Flint residents. One state official told a Michigan radio station that if the federal declaration had not been in place, the state would have paid more than $117,400 per day in May for water resources provided to Flint residents. It’s difficult to say whether that will be the exact cost going forward because demand for bottled water can fluctuate.

The federal government’s broader role in Flint will continue even after the FEMA aid expires.

Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency remain involved in the efforts to monitor Flint’s water quality and ensure that it is once again safe to drink.


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