Most of the $ 600 million settlement in the Flint water crisis goes to children
FLINT, Michigan – Perhaps the biggest concern since contaminated water spilled from faucets in Flint six years ago has been the lasting impact on the city of Michigan’s 25,000 children.
Along with rashes and illness, some children had elevated levels of lead in their blood, which raised the alarming prospect of irreversible damage to their developing brain. In schools, inquiries about special education or behavioral interventions increased.
When the state of Michigan announced a $ 600 million deal on Thursday for the victims of the water crisis that turned Flint upside down, the deal was another reminder of the damage and debt for thousands of children: nearly 80 percent The deal will go to people under the age of 18 during the crisis, officials said, and much of that will go to those under 7.
Local residents around Flint said the settlement, which has yet to be approved by a federal judge, felt like the start of hopeful news. But after everything they have been through, some doubts remain. They asked how long the process of deciding who should be eligible to pay can take. And they said they are painfully aware that no amount of money can reverse their children ‘s exposure to polluted water between 2014 and 2016.
“To me, the agreement means we’re going to be fine,” said Tiantha Williams as she helped at a food and water distribution center in the Greater Holy Temple Church of God in Christ. “But it’s annoying that it’s going to take so long because I just want it to be over. You just get to a certain point where you hate talking about it. “
Ms. Williams, 43, said her four-year-old son had developmental delays in speech and toilet training and feared that the water she drank during pregnancy may have played a role. He was only 2.6 pounds at birth, she said, struggling to survive.
The water pipes in their home have been replaced, as have the pipes in most homes in Flint, officials say. But Ms. Williams, like many people in Flint, continues to use bottled water for drinking and cooking. “I just don’t trust the water,” she said.
The water started turning strange colors and smelling strange smells in 2014 after the city’s water supply was switched from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The city, home to around 95,000 people – 40 percent of whom fall below the federal poverty line – was in dire financial straits. While Flint was overseen by a state-appointed emergency manager to help solve the city’s problems, he had switched his water supply to save money.
For months, local residents’ complaints about illness and bad smells were ignored as city and state officials assured people that the water was safe. But officials had neglected to add chemicals to the water that slow corrosion, and investigations later found that the Flint River water leached lead and other substances from the maze of the city’s ancient pipes into people’s drinking water. Much of the past few years has been spent repairing and replacing water pipes and convincing residents that the water is now safe.
Sheldon Neeley, who was elected mayor of Flint after the crisis, said the deal was a step forward. “We were victims for years – our voices and concerns were ignored as lead continued to seep into our water,” he said. “However, our community is resilient and we have persevered.”
Other political leaders praised the settlement, including Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who became governor of Michigan after Republican Rick Snyder, and his administration has been harshly criticized for its handling of the water in Flint and the aftermath of the scandal.
“It was our responsibility to find the best possible deal for the children and families of Flint,” said Whitmer. “What happened in Flint should never have happened, and the financial compensation that comes with this settlement is just one of the many ways we can continue to show our support to the City of Flint and their families.”
Much remains to be seen about how the settlement will be distributed, although the individual amounts that will be received will depend on the extent of the suffering and damage suffered by the residents of Flint from drinking the water.
At the moment, even the number of people who will receive payments is uncertain; Thousands of residents have filed lawsuits against the state, but anyone who lived in Flint between 2014 and 2016 could be eligible, and officials say the city has around 25,000 children. And the court still has to decide how much the lawyers will get.
“I hope the distribution process is fair,” said Bishop Roger Jones, a pastor in Flint. “But some of these children have problems that no amount of money can solve. You will have to deal with these problems for the rest of your life. “
The payouts are expected to take place next spring. That feels like to Ella Campbell, 70, after a long time who says she has eczema and difficulty breathing, which she thinks was caused by the polluted water. “What about the seniors?” she said, noting that she knew that children would get the bulk of the severance payment.
Financial compensation aside, criminal charges remain pending against a long list of officials involved in the water crisis – a fact that frustrates Flint residents. Last year, Attorney General Dana Nessel announced that her office would suspend pending criminal cases against government officials implicated in the scandal, but she promised to continue the investigation. Her office has not brought any further charges since then.
“We’re getting around 50 percent today, but until we get the criminal component worked out, we’re not going to get 100 percent,” said Jim Ananich, a Democratic senator who represents Flint. He said he remains confident that new criminal charges will be filed.
Even so, Mr Ananich said he was concerned about the health of his family, including a 5 year old son, and the time a few years ago when the water was contaminated. “You tell your children to wash their hands and drink plenty of water, but all parents are now rethinking everything they have done during that time,” he said. He said he still did not allow his son Jacob to drink water from the tap.
In fact, even on Thursday, the day the settlement was announced, many cars were waiting in the church of the Great Holy Temple of God in Christ for cases of dispensing dispensed water from a tent. Hundreds of people come every week. Sandra Smith Jones, 72, the executive director of the RL Jones Community Outreach Center, which is affiliated with the Church, checks ID cards to make sure the people of Flint are living.
“I’ve been doing this every week since 2016,” she said. “And I’ll be back next week.”
Monica Davey and Julie Bosman Reporting contributed. Alain Delaquérière Research contributed.