How We’re Responding to the Public Health Crisis in Flint

As a proud Michigan native, it has been devastating to watch what has been happening to the people of Flint. Clean drinking water is something we expect — that we even take for granted. But in Flint, just an hour from where I grew up, people were exposed to dangerous levels of lead in their water. That’s unacceptable.

When President Obama visited Michigan in January, he spoke from his heart as the father of two daughters. He said:

“If I was a parent up there, I would be beside myself that my kids’ health could be at risk.”

I’m a mother of two myself, and I couldn’t agree more. All parents — no matter what zip code they call home — should be able to have confidence that the water is safe in the communities where they live. The tragedy in Flint is a reminder that no one should ever shortchange basic services, especially when it comes to the safety of our children.

In January, after declaring a federal emergency in Flint, President Obama met with Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, and said, “We are going to have her back and all the people of Flint’s back as they work their way through this terrible tragedy.”

The federal government is engaging in a vigorous way. Our response is built around three big goals:

  1. To make sure that people have immediate access to clean water;
  2. To ensure that the public health needs of the people of Flint are addressed; and
  3. To make sure that the state of Michigan, Genesee County, and the city of Flint are equipped to meet the needs of Flint’s residents for the long term.

Right now, the federal government has close to 90 personnel in the Flint area supporting the state and city officials. Because the water issue is primarily a public health crisis, President Obama designated the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as the lead agency to coordinate the federal government’s activities. Those efforts include resources from FEMA, EPA, Small Business Administration, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Education, and the Department of Agriculture.

Here are some examples of what this federal team is doing:

  • We have provided almost 2 million liters of water to the state for distribution, more than 168,000 water filter replacement cartridges, and almost 41,000 water and pitcher filters. We estimate that 88% of the homes have received filters at this point, and we are working with state, local and community organizations to distribute to the rest.
  • EPA has nearly 40 staff on the ground; the agency is drawing independent water samples from homes with high lead levels, and working with drinking water system operators at the city’s treatment plant to make sure that the water is safe to drink.
  • Another 40 staff from the Health and Human Services Department are helping the state identify and support health needs for children and pregnant women in Flint. This has included assisting the overwhelmed Genesee County Health Department in clearing a backlog of blood lead level screening results, and providing those results to parents. The Department also just announced a $500,000 in emergency funding for two Flint health centers to help meet the increased demand for services, and HHS anticipates being able to approve a major Medicaid coverage expansion for children and pregnant women, including blood-lead level monitoring, behavioral health services, nutritional support, and comprehensive targeted case management.
  • The Department of Agriculture is also engaged in supporting the nutritional needs of pregnant women and children who have been exposed to lead through a variety of programs that are both expanding access to healthy food and providing resources for lead testing.
  • The Small Business Administration is providing low-interest disaster loans for businesses in the Flint area to aid with economic recovery.

Most importantly, the team on the ground is working in partnership with local leaders so that we can strengthen their capacity to meet the needs of the people of Flint for the long term. The federal team will continue to offer its support until we are confident that the community has the clean water they deserve and the health services they need, and that the state, county and city are equipped to meet the community’s needs for the long haul.

If you’re a Flint resident, learn about the steps you can take protect your health and the health of your family.