Despite Continued Water Safety Fears, Michigan Ends Subsidies For Flint
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Starting today, people in Flint, Mich., will be paying more for their tap water. It's no longer being subsidized by the state. The move comes as many Flint residents fear that their tap water is still not safe to drink. Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody reports.
STEVE CARMODY, BYLINE: For nearly a year now, Michigan has been paying 65 percent of the total on Flint water bills. The credits were intended to pay for water that didn't meet federal quality standards dating back to 2014 when the city's drinking water source was switched to the Flint River. Improperly treated river water damaged city pipes which leached lead into Flint's drinking water.
In all, the state has spent $41 million on the credits, but that's now over because state officials say lead levels in the city's tap water are now comparable with other communities. Rich Baird is a senior adviser to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder. He explains what that means.
RICH BAIRD: With the passage of time, you moved from what was the-water-still-is-not-good-but-the-filters-work message to a message now which is, the water is good. Most of the time, you could drink it right out of the tap without fear.
CARMODY: At the height of the crisis, blood levels here tested in the hundreds of parts per billion. The federal action level is 15 parts per billion. The state extended the credits late last year after test showed lead levels dipping to 12 parts per billion. It's now at eight parts per billion.
The state still encourages Flint residents to use filters in parts of town where service lines are being replaced, a process that will take years. Flint Mayor Karen Weaver argues that it's too soon to end the subsidy. She met with the governor last month and failed to convince him to extend the credits.
KAREN WEAVER: I went between anger and disappointment. I don't know which feeling was the heaviest for me.
CARMODY: Flint has one of the nation's highest water rates. The average bill tops $140 a month. And only about half of Flint's residential customers are current on their water bills. As bills go back up, that number is expected to drop and that means Flint officials may soon have to shut off water service to some homes. Flint resident Lisia Williams worries about people making difficult choices.
LISIA WILLIAMS: We have seniors that are already making decisions between buying medication or paying their water bill. Now, once again, they're not going to buy their medication. They're going to pay the water bill - water that they cannot use, water that they cannot bathe in, and water that we cannot drink.
CARMODY: Flint residents do still have access to bottled water and filters that are being handed out daily at distribution sites around the city. But due to lawsuits and other issues, how long that will continue is uncertain. For NPR News, I'm Steve Carmody in Flint, Mich. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.