For months, the Michigan governor’s office has been under fire for its handling of the Flint water crisis. Who made what decision when, and who knew what and when did they know it? Those questions are being investigated, but in the mean time there have been plenty of calls for the recall of Gov. Rick Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley (how likely it is to succeed is up for debate). With that cloud hanging over the Snyder administration, there is still a job to do to help the city of Flint recover.
Calley joined Stateside to talk about his role in the administration’s response to the crisis, and what short-term and long-term fixes he is seeking for the city. He says he’s spending a lot of his time on the ground in Flint trying to help organize the response and reach out to people to find out what their needs are and if they are being met.
During his State of the State address, Gov. Snyder said the approach should be to assume that every child in Flint has been exposed to lead. According to Calley, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the Flint-based pediatrician who first sounded the alarm about lead exposure in children, has echoed those words, and he says there’s a positive that could come from that way of thinking.
“That’s why I look at it and fully support the approach that Dr. Mona [Hanna-Attisha] has discussed, which is assume population-wide exposure,” said Calley. “There’s no downside to that. Because these are all things that at-risk kids in places like Flint could really benefit from either way.”
Calley said among the top priorities for the administration are making early childhood education more available, and an increased effort to provide food and proper nutrition for the population. The challenge when it comes to improving the city’s nutrition is the lack of grocery stores in and around Flint. The lieutenant governor says it is "critically important" to bringing grocery stores in Flint, especially to the north side, but the priority now is to put the governor's $15 million that has been set aside for food and nutrition to use.
“Passing out food is not hard, but changing diets, that is hard,” said Calley. “Without going into too much detail about what my diet is, if you gave me kale, I would have no idea what to do with it. And so, as we look at the particular kinds of food that are helpful in mitigating the impacts of lead, if we don’t include, as part of that, the education required on how this food is prepared and how to integrate it into your diet, then we really won’t have accomplished anything. We need to go beyond just access to and providing food but also providing the support that a family would need on knowing how to integrate that food into their lifestyle.”
Gov. Rick Snyder also proposed spending $195 million in the upcoming budget year to buy bottled water and filters, start replacing lead water pipes, provide Flint residents with nutrition assistance, and other services. More recently, Snyder has asked the federal government for Medicaid expansion for Flint residents as a way to help.
Is there any way to assure that the funding will be there for the long-term?
“Good results are the best defense against people finding other priorities,” said Calley. “There is a moral imperative that we do whatever it takes to be successful. And what I’ve found in the appropriations process ... is that ... there’s a lot of support when there are strong results tied to these types of investments.”
There are also economic concerns in Flint. According to Calley, the city’s infrastructure is built for a city of about 300,000 people, but there are only about 100,000 people living there now.
“We really need to intensify our efforts on economic development,” said Calley. “The work that I’m doing [in Flint] is not just a matter of things directly related to lead exposure and the long-term impacts of that, but ... it’s important that we mitigate the economic impacts as well. And at the end of the day I’m just determined, for as horrible as this crisis is, our work needs to be about leaving Flint with a better future than what it had before. Anything less just is not enough.”
Listen to the full interview below. There you can hear more about what Calley is doing on a day-to-day basis in Flint, and how the Snyder administration is dealing with a lack of trust that many citizens have in state government.