WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republican leaders are refusing to approve emergency aid for a water crisis in Flint, Michigan because a majority of city residents are African-Americans, a Democratic lawmaker from Flint charged Tuesday.
Rep. Dan Kildee said in a speech on the House floor that GOP leaders "don't see American citizens" when they look at the people of Flint, where drinking water has been contaminated with lead for more than a year.
"There's something about this poor community — this poor, majority-minority community — that exempts them from the kind of help that we have provided time and time again to people in crisis in this country," said Kildee, who is white.
"I hate to come to the conclusion that there's something about these people that causes this Congress to decide they don't deserve that help. That is a shame," Kildee added.
Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., said he was "incensed" by Kildee's comments.
"How dare you suggest that race is the basis" for failure to act on Flint, Woodall said. "We owe each other better than that. That kind of vitriol is not going to get us to where I know you and I both want to go."
"Prove me wrong," Kildee retorted. "You have it in your power to take up this legislation. It's not me who's blocking this legislation."
The Senate has approved $220 million to help Flint and other cities with lead contamination, but GOP leaders have refused to include the aid in a water-projects bill moving forward in the House.
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 children have been exposed to lead in water, officials say.
The Flint crisis also is tying up a must-pass bill to prevent the government from shutting down this weekend. Senate Democrats overwhelmingly opposed a GOP spending proposal Tuesday because it does not include money for Flint.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders have promised to address the Flint issue after the election, but Democrats refuse to take them at their word.
For Republicans to say, "'Trust me, we will consider Flint later' — that's like nothing to me," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
Flint returned to a Detroit-area water system last year, but residents still can't drink the water without a filter. The state health agency says it is up to individuals to decide whether to shower or bathe with city water.
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