WASHINGTON (AP) — Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy on Friday defended his comment that people in his flood-ravaged state deserve immediate help and should not be held "hostage" to Flint, Michigan, where residents are struggling with lead-poisoned water.
Cassidy, a Republican, told National Public Radio this week that Flint residents can be taken care of after the election, while flood victims in Louisiana need immediate help.
"We shouldn't hold folks who right now still have mud in their house and are thinking of throwing the keys to their house on the table of their banker because they cannot afford their mortgage hostage to other people's grief," Cassidy said.
Democrats called the remark insensitive and said it minimized the suffering of Flint families, who have been drinking bottled water for more than a year.
Flint's drinking water became tainted when the city began drawing from the Flint River in 2014 to save money. The impoverished city of 100,000 was under state control at the time. Regulators failed to ensure the water was treated properly and lead from aging pipes leached into the water supply. As many as 12,000 people have been exposed to lead in water, officials say.
Cassidy told The Associated Press on Friday he did not mean to "take a shot at Flint" and supports federal aid for the city. He voted for a water projects bill that includes $220 million to replace lead-contaminated pipes in Flint and other cities with lead emergencies, as well as test water for lead in schools and help with water infrastructure loans.
"There is a path forward for Flint," Cassidy said in a telephone interview. "To say you won't help Louisiana when we know there's a path forward for Flint, I don't think that's fair."
Cassidy was referring to comments by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and other Democrats that they would not support a short-term spending bill unless it includes money for Flint. The White House said Friday that President Barack Obama might not sign the budget bill, reflecting the administration's disappointment about the lack of money for Flint.
The short-term bill includes $500 million in community development grants to help Louisiana recover from last month's devastating floods. The flood aid wasn't controversial on its own, but Democrats say that if Louisiana gets flood relief, money for Flint should be added as well.
Cassidy said the comments by Democrats show a lack of understanding of how devastating the floods were in his home state. A storm that started Aug. 12 dumped as much as 2 feet of rain in some parts of Louisiana over two days, and the flooding has been described as the worst disaster in the U.S. since Superstorm Sandy struck the East Coast in 2012. Flood damage has been documented to more than 55,000 houses in Louisiana, and that could double as aid applications and inspections continue.
The budget bill would fund the government until Dec. 9.
"It's for 10 weeks and that pushes immediate aid out to folks who are hurting and that's a good thing," Cassidy said.
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