FEMA denies Michigan governor's appeal for more federal funds

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 16, 2016 1:01 PM

DETROIT (Reuters) - Federal officials have denied Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's request to give the city of Flint additional funds to help deal with its lead-contaminated water crisis, his office said on Wednesday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency in a March 14 letter to Snyder rejected the governor's appeal of the agency's initial denial, saying the funds he was asking for were not appropriate to the situation. A copy of FEMA's response was supplied by Snyder's office.

"It is recognized that substantial costs have been incurred at the state and local levels in responding to the health concerns associated with the water contamination," FEMA associate administrator Elizabeth Zimmerman said in the letter. "The assistance FEMA has provided and continues to provide is intended to address the immediate emergency needs."

The crisis has drawn national attention along with intense criticism of Snyder, who will testify in Congress about the crisis on Thursday.

The Republican governor said he was disappointed to be rejected again, arguing that help was needed from all levels of government.

“This denial is especially frustrating as it would have provided aid to individual households in Flint," he said in a statement.

Flint, a predominantly African-American city of 100,000 about 60 miles northwest of Detroit, switched its water supply from the Detroit water system to the Flint River in April 2014 to cut costs. The river's corrosive water leached lead from city pipes, creating a public health threat marked by high lead levels in blood samples taken from children.

Lead is a toxic agent that can damage the nervous system.

The water supply was switched back to the Detroit system last October.

On Tuesday, the same House committee that will hear from Snyder criticized the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Michigan officials for failing to do more about the crisis.

On March 3, Snyder requested money from FEMA to pay for food, water and other essential needs; the removal of health and safety hazards; activation of emergency operation centers; measures to avoid further damage; and homeowners' repairs not covered by insurance.

The agency turned down an earlier request for financial help in January for the same reason it gave this week, but has provided non-monetary support in the form of a FEMA coordinator.

Also in January, Snyder asked President Barack Obama to declare both an emergency and an expedited major disaster in Flint's surrounding county. Obama approved the emergency declaration but rejected the second.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Matthew Lewis)