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Obama Visiting Flint Amid Water Crisis 05/04 06:16

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is set to meet with residents of 
Flint, Michigan, to hear how they're managing after lead from old pipes tainted 
their drinking water.

   And he is bringing a message to Flint on Wednesday: a promise for change.

   Obama declared a state of emergency in mid-January and ordered federal aid 
to supplement the state and local response. At that point, however, the crisis 
was in full bloom.

   It actually took several months for the nation to focus its attention on the 
beaten-down city's plight, raising questions about how race and poverty 
influenced decisions that led to the tainted water supply and the beleaguered 
response once problems surfaced. More than 40 percent of the city's residents 
live in poverty and more than half are black.

   "The fact that something like this happened in a community that is so 
economically disadvantaged is something that troubles the president," White 
House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday.

   In an effort to save money, the city began drawing its water from the Flint 
River in April 2014. Despite complaints from residents about the smell and 
taste and health problems, city leaders insisted the water was safe. However, 
doctors reported last September that the blood of children contained high 
levels of lead.

   The source of the city's water was subsequently switched back to Detroit, 
but the lead problem still is not fully solved, and people are drinking 
filtered or bottled water.

   The political and legal fallout is ongoing. An independent commission 
appointed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder determined the state was primarily 
responsible for the water contamination in Flint, and he issued an apology. The 
Obama administration's response, through the Environmental Protection Agency, 
has also come under criticism from Snyder and some in Congress who say that the 
EPA didn't move with necessary urgency upon hearing of problems.

   EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told Congress that, while staff repeatedly 
urged the state to address the lack of corrosion controls, "we missed the 
opportunity late last summer to quickly get EPA's concerns on the public's 
radar screen." An inspector general is investigating the EPA's response.

   The White House announced Obama's visit by posting a letter he wrote to 
8-year-old Flint resident Mari Copeny, known locally as "Little Miss Flint," 
who had asked to meet the president.

   "I want to make sure people like you and your family are receiving the help 
you need and deserve," Obama told her.

   The White House has said Obama wouldn't use the trip to focus on 
accountability. He doesn't want to be perceived as weighing in on one side or 
the other during an active investigation. The White House has also cautioned 
not to expect a major new funding announcement. Rather, "Flint residents need 
to know that when the cameras are gone, the administration's support for the 
state and local response efforts will continue," Earnest said.

   Obama plans to meet with the governor when he lands. His first stop will be 
at the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan to get a briefing on the response to the 
problem from federal officials. The food bank has helped more than 300,000 
people in the last year with meals, water and hygiene products. From there, 
Obama will hear from Flint residents. He'll then speak to a crowd of about 
1,000 people at a high school.

   Congress is also grappling with how to help Flint, but progress has been 
slow. A Senate committee last week approved a $220 million aid package as part 
of a broader bill that would authorize nearly $4.8 billion for water-related 
projects around the country. The bill could come up for a Senate vote in May.


(KA)

 
 
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