The Federal Government’s Failure to Respond to the “Flint Water Crisis”

By: Amanda Williamson

 Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect views of the Journal, the William H. Bowen School of Law, or UA Little Rock.

The “Flint Water Crisis” is a third world problem happening in a first world country. On April 25th, 2014, the city officials of Flint, Michigan made the conscious decision to switch their water supply to cut costs. Ultimately, this decision by city officials is what caused the increase of lead in the water and residents of Flint to be poisoned by their own water supply.  A majority of the blame for causing the “Flint Water Crisis” can be directly pinpointed to officials within the state of Michigan, but the blame for the continuing nature of the situation can be placed on the federal government for not appropriately responding to a national health emergency.

The Obama administration is the first culprit in failing to respond to the “Flint Water Crisis” at the federal government level. The inaction or lack of effective action by the Obama administration was particularly alarming because that administration pushed for progress within African American communities. The city of Flint has a population of 95, 538 people. Approximately 54 percent of that population is African American. This classifies the city of Flint as a minority community. So, while the Obama administration advocated for growth in minority communities,  its lack of action literally stunted growth in the city of Flint. Essentially, the Obama administration let the lives of many people fall through the cracks because they failed to adequately address the “Flint Water Crisis.”

The “Flint Water Crisis” happened under President Obama’s term and his administration bears a large part of the burden of the community continuing to struggle with their water supply. President Obama’s failure to swiftly declare a state of emergency is one major way in which he utterly failed the community of Flint. President Obama did not declare a state of emergency over Flint’s contaminated water until January of 2016. This means that the President’s declaration did not occur until almost two years after the water supply was switched. For almost two years, the federal government did not provide aid to the residents of Flint. To wait nearly two years to respond to the situation in Flint is cruel. The aid that could have been provided by the federal government earlier would have made a huge difference in the lives of Flint residents. A low income community, like Flint, does not have the resources to combat an issue like this. Government assistance was needed and it came too late. By the time the federal government provided aid to Flint the effects of lead poisoning were already rippling across the community. However, just as the Obama administration failed to take any substantive action to mitigate the “Flint Water Crisis,” the Trump administration also failed to take action. But as we move on to the next American president, I wonder if the Biden administration will attempt to make strides towards amending a national health emergency that preceded the coronavirus. Or will another administration come and go without fully addressing the “Flint Water Crisis”?

It is as of today, that the state of Michigan has finally criminally charged the former governor of Michigan for his involvement in the “Flint Water Crisis.” As the state of Michigan takes steps to rectify this situation, I ask myself will the federal government ever do the same? Since it has been almost 7 years since the news of the “Flint Water Crisis” broke and nothing has been done. I have little faith to believe that the federal government will ever acknowledge its part in the continuation of Americans being poisoned. However, since 2014, the desperate cries for help from the people of Flint have been muffled by the constant chaos of American politics. Here’s to hoping that one day the residents of Flint will get the justice that they deserve.




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