Showing Up for the People of Flint
As HUD Secretary, I visited Flint in 2016 during the devastating water crisis. I returned this weekend to send the message that I haven’t forgotten them.
The backstory of the Flint water crisis is one of a failure of government leading to a mistrust of those public services and servants.
The water source in Flint had become contaminated with high levels of lead, leached from the water pipes when the city switched water sources in an effort to save money. Yet, from the start, local, state, and federal officials gave Flint residents mixed messages about the safety.
Ultimately thousands of residents — including 8,000 children — were exposed to contaminated water, disproportionately impacting residents of color. Lead poisoning is irreversible and has been linked to an array of mental and physical symptoms including behavioral challenges, reduced intelligence, hypertension, and anemia. Additionally, more than 80 residents have been diagnosed with Legionnaires disease, a severe form of pneumonia, ten of whom have died.
My first trip to Flint three years ago was surprising. Although HUD wasn’t responsible for the crisis, we played a pivotal role in the inter-agency effort to respond — ensuring that every resident living in HUD-assisted housing had filters to provide clean water to drink and bathe and cook. On my trip I heard from senior citizens who wondered when they could bathe without fear, and from parents who worried that their children may have been exposed before the public was aware of the risk. How long would they have to wait to know if their children were affected?
It’s no surprise that five years on you’d be hard-pressed to find a Flint resident who trusts their elected officials to tell them the truth about the safety of their water, or to take concrete action to address the long-term problem. Wealthy residents have left town, the small business and housing markets took a serious blow, and a generation of children have grown up boiling their water before drinking it. It’s a community that feels left behind and betrayed.
I returned to Flint last weekend to talk with residents and community leaders about how we could help communities like Flint to recover, and what we can do to ensure that no community goes through what the residents of Flint have endured.
First, I toured a local farmers’ market with Congressman Dan Kildee and Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, where local leaders are working to combat food insecurity in a city that was once considered a food desert.
Then I visited the First Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, where incredible faith leaders work every day to distribute water to local residents — both with water bottles and through their innovative “Water Box” filtration system.
Finally, I held a town hall at a local church where I talked with residents about the water crisis, education, immigration, and much more. Their voices are what sticks with me now.
At each of these stops I heard a simple refrain:
While the residents of Flint appreciate people bringing attention to their community, they aren’t looking for opportunists — they want plans. Plans and commitments to follow through.
Today I’m sharing my plan to combat lead exposure across the country, and to end the public health crisis that is lead poisoning.
No other communities should have to struggle with what those in Flint have had to endure.
As the former Housing Secretary, I know how deep rooted these challenges can be. My plan would eliminate lead exposure and poisoning as a major health threat by:
- Significantly increasing resources to identify and remediate lead hazards,
- Ensuring that local, state, and federal governments are able to respond to any future lead emergency, and
- Strengthening lead poison prevention efforts and providing increased resources for families already impacted by lead poisoning.
I will work with Congress to direct $50 billion dollars over ten years to begin remediating lead hazards, targeting the communities with the highest need. We will remove lead pipes carrying water to homes across the United States and provide homeowners with tax credits to incentivize work for lead remediation.
I will convene a Presidential Taskforce aiming at eliminating this public health threat. The taskforce will ensure consistent standards and requirements across all relevant agencies, and each agency will develop its own action plan to integrate the goal of eliminating the threat of lead poisoning into its work.
I will work with Congress to amend and update the Stafford Act so it is able to capture hybrid disasters that are part a result of natural causes, but are impacted by human action as well. Qualifying for a disaster declaration under the Stafford Act provides critically important funds that can determine whether a community can successfully respond and recover from an emergency like lead exposure. As climate change continues to impact our planet and we make efforts to respond, we can anticipate more emergencies and crises that arise from a combination of natural and human causes. The Stafford Act should be updated to reflect these hybrid disasters and to allow them to qualify for the increased federal funds needed to respond to these emergencies.
Finally, I will direct agencies including USDA, the Department of Education, HHS, and other relevant agencies to work together to provide ongoing resources in the communities where these crises hit. The lasting impact of lead poisoning should be accompanied by a lasting commitment from the federal government to provide support to help respond to increased needs. Parents need information on their children’s educational, health, and nutritional needs. Children may need additional help through tutoring, behavioral support, and healthcare. We need to ensure that these communities know the commitments we make will follow their children into adulthood.
The Flint water crisis is a crisis both in health and in confidence — confidence that our elected officials tell us the truth about our safety, that those in power will be held accountable for their actions, and that those making promises to act will be delivered once elected. I haven’t forgotten the people of Flint after I visited in 2016. In my administration we will continue to tell their story, and will deliver on our promises with results.