Let Flint serve as a warning: Congress must do more to improve the nation's infrastructure
It is completely unacceptable that an American city—Flint, Mich.—still does not trust the drinking water coming out of the tap.
By now, most Americans know the story of Flint’s water crisis. State officials, obsessed with budget cuts, switched the city’s water source from the Great Lakes to the Flint River to save money. These same state officials also failed to treat the city’s water properly, leading to dangerously high levels of lead leeching into Flint’s water and into the homes of 100,000 residents. Almost immediately, Flint families recognized there was a problem, but state officials dismissed their concerns, telling them to just ‘relax.’
Four years after the water switch, Flint families still depend on filters and bottled water. In the richest country in the world, clean drinking water should be a basic human right.
Today, House Democrats are going back to Flint. During our visit, we will meet with families, receive an update on the progress being made to repair the city’s water system, and highlight what more needs to be done to help Flint’s recovery. While the Flint water crisis has faded from the national headlines, our visit to Flint is an important reminder that this crisis is not over, and that Flint families still need our support.
There is progress in Flint. Nearly 7,000 of Flint’s lead pipes have already been replaced so far, thanks in part to the $170 million aid package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama. These federal funds have also helped to expand health care to Flint families exposed to lead, create the Flint Lead Registry and establish the Center for Lead Excellence, which will help make sure families get the care they need for years to come.
While Flint’s recovery continues, Democrats believe more must be done, both to help Flint families and prevent a similar crisis from happening elsewhere in America.
To be clear, Flint’s water crisis isn’t just about water. This crisis is a lesson about a failed Republican philosophy of government that puts dollars and cents ahead of people. Extreme austerity at the state and federal level has a real impact on the lives of working families. Our schools, roads and health care system have been worse off under Republican policies.
In Flint, even after the careless decision to switch the water source from the Great Lakes to the Flint River, less than $100 per day could have prevented the crisis. But instead, the state’s obsessive balance sheet-approach to government created a crisis that will end up costing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.
What happened to Flint is a terrible human health tragedy that was entirely preventable. But the hard truth is, what happened to Flint is not an isolated event. Many other America’s cities and towns are just one mistake away from a similar crisis. What happened to Flint is not an anomaly—rather, it’s a warning to other communities across the country that we must get serious about repairing our aging infrastructure.
Republicans in Congress have seemingly already forgotten about the lessons from Flint. Just this week, House Republicans voted to cut $300 million for water infrastructure improvements. By cutting investments for repairs to water systems, Republicans are failing to protect public health and increasing the likelihood that other communities will face their own public health crisis.
Republicans have also failed to take up legislation to rebuild America’s aging infrastructure. Americans drive on crumbling roads and bridges to get to work and get their kids to school. Instead of having cutting-edge schools, millions of students are in buildings that are unsafe and outdated. Well into the 21st century, we still have American families without access to high speed internet. And many communities like Flint still have unsafe drinking water and are not getting help from the federal government to replace dangerous water systems.
Democrats are offering a better deal. We have a $1 trillion plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure—including our roads, bridges and water systems—across America. Our plan puts Americans to work, creating 16 million good-paying jobs. Putting Americans back to work rebuilding our infrastructure will make us more competitive in the global economy and unleash greater economic opportunity in communities across the country.
We must get serious about improving America’s infrastructure—both seen and unseen—and make investments in communities like Flint so a similar crisis does not happen elsewhere. This Republican-led Congress has failed—we can do better.
Pelosi is House Democratic leader and Kildee represents Michigan’s 5th District, which includes Flint.