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Why the $ 626.25 million settlement may not be enough for survivors of Flint’s water crisis

Dionna Brown was a freshman in high school when the water crisis in Flint, Mich., Wracked her community. Now 23, she vividly remembers the physical and mental ailments suffered by those exposed to dangerous lead.

“My friends who lived on the east side and south side, they had rashes on their skin,” Brown said. “Their hair was falling out. “

Last month, a federal judge approved a partial settlement of $ 626.25 million to compensate up to 85,000 residents for problems caused by the water crisis. But even with the money earmarked for residents of Flint, health and safety concerns related to the water crisis persist in the predominantly black community. Many residents exposed to lead in tap water have developed illnesses like Legionnaires’ disease, miscarriages, behavioral problems in children, and male infertility.

Under the draft terms of the settlement, 80 percent of the funds will be distributed to those who were 6 years of age or younger at the time of initial exposure to Flint River water. Two percent of the funds will go to special education services in Genesee County, 18 percent will fund property damage and about 1 percent will go to businesses that have suffered financial hardship. The amount each person will receive will not be determined until all applications are submitted and found eligible.

As organizations like Black Millennials 4 Flint, which have helped the city weather the crisis, are launching a number of initiatives in 2022 to help vulnerable residents, group founder LaTricea Adams said the government regulation is insufficient to support long-term care for those who continue to struggle with health problems.

“It’s a slap in the face,” Adams said. “With the regulation, it did not take into account public health or the social determinants of health. There should have been Medicaid access, Medicare access, for the rest of the lives of the people of Flint. There is irreversible damage done to the people of Flint.

Lynsey Mukomel, press secretary to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, said lawsuits involving unresolved defendants could result in the distribution of additional funds.

“We recognize that no amount of money will repair the damage created by the crisis, nor the continuing hardship for the city,” Mukomel said. “That said, we were encouraged to see that more than half of Flint’s population signed up for the settlement, which was negotiated tenaciously for 18 months to achieve a historic result. We are proud of this settlement and the positive step it adds to Flint’s healing process.

Since the water crisis began in 2014, Black Millennials 4 Flint has helped lead-exposed communities in Flint and other cities across the country, including Baltimore, Washington, DC and Memphis. At the height of the disaster in Flint, members delivered water to homes and advocated against residents having to pay their water bills. While the organization is based in Washington, Adams said she uses Flint in her name to pay tribute to the mostly black individuals who have brought environmental and social injustices to the nation’s attention.

The crisis in Flint stems from a desire by then-state governor Rick Snyder to cut spending in the cash-strapped city by moving its primary water source from Detroit Water and Sewage to the Flint River via a Karegnondi Water pipeline. Authority. Despite reports that the water was unsafe, the change was made in 2014, exposing residents to water filled with high-risk contaminants. The result has been years of health problems for black residents coupled with the broken promise of a boosted economy.

Why the $ 626.25 million settlement may not be enough for survivors of Flint’s water crisis

Once a strong industrial city in the early 20th century, Flint began to experience fiscal decline in the 1960s as manufacturers – and once reliable factory jobs – left the United States and cities like Flint. .

Flint is 54% black and nearly 39% of all residents live in poverty, according to the US Census Bureau. The water crisis has only exacerbated the city’s economic decline, said Henry Taylor, director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University of Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning.

Decades of neglect and underdevelopment in Flint is a “challenge we face with African American communities across the country,” Taylor said. For example, the median household income in Flint was only $ 28,834 in 2019, compared to the national median of $ 69,560.

The state said it had already spent $ 423 million to help Flint recover from the crisis, including a $ 97 million regulation passed in March to replace all of the city’s contaminating lead service lines. its water supply system. However, for towns like Flint to thrive, Taylor said the money needs to be invested and recirculated more consciously into the community.

“There has never been a time in American history when black people haven’t lived in underdeveloped neighborhoods like Flint,” Taylor said. “You have to change the neighborhoods in order to change the other outcomes. “

Meanwhile, local organizations continue to fill in the gaps. In the case of Black Millennials 4 Flint, next year the group will launch Lead Free Mamas, a program that will work in conjunction with Revive Community Health Center in Flint to help educate midwives, doulas and social birth attendants on how to integrate environmentalism into their practices.

Brown, whose teenage years are filled with memories of friends and families who fell ill from contaminated water, now actively fights against such injustices. Inspired by a course she took at Howard University on environmental inequalities, she began working on solving the water crisis in Flint and other cities and joined Black Millennials 4 Flint after returning to town after graduation. Brown is now the national director of the organization’s Youth EJ Griots program, which engages young black and Latino leaders to organize against environmental and civil injustices.

The death of Brown’s grandmother from chronic kidney disease was a stark reminder of how the water crisis continues to wreak havoc in the community, despite the settlement.

“A price tag is not a substitute for the loss of a family member,” Brown said. She said her grandmother had never been tested for lead, but Brown remains suspicious. “Even though it happened last year, I can probably see that his illness came from lead.”

Youth leadership and engagement is a key factor in Black Millennials 4 Flint initiatives. Due to the limited availability of jobs and the city’s economic decline, many young people are leaving to pursue a college education or for better jobs, Adams said. But the need for continued organization and activism remains in Flint, even after the final payment is made.

“Lead in drinking water in everyday life is still a problem,” Brown said. “We live as a third world country in many cities because we don’t have water, the most basic right, and like access to clean water – and it is happening all over the country in black and brown communities. . Nobody says anything. Nobody does anything. Our mission will therefore not change.

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