Governor extends Flint water emergency as state approves funds

By David Shepardson
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The top of a water tower at the Flint Water Plant is seen in Flint, Michigan

The top of a water tower at the Flint Water Plant is seen in Flint, Michigan January 13, 2016. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Michigan Governor Rick Snyder on Thursday extended a state of emergency in Flint until April 14, as the Michigan legislature gave final approval of $28 million to address the drinking water crisis.

Snyder's move approved by the state legislature means the state emergency declaration will continue as long as the federal emergency declaration issued earlier this month by President Barack Obama. The state declaration was originally set to end Feb. 1.

"Extending this emergency will help us continue these efforts while working on long-term solutions to help Flint recover," Snyder said of providing access to bottled water, filters and testing kits.

Separately, Michigan Democrats in Congress said Thursday they want to win backing for up to $600 million in U.S. support of Flint. Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters and Rep. Dan Kildee of Flint said they will offer an amendment to a pending Senate Energy bill that would provide up to $400 million to replace or fix lead pipes. The proposal would require the state of Michigan to match any federal funding.

The proposal would also direct $200 million in federal funds for a research center to focus on the needs of children and would also require the Environmental Protection Agency to warn the public of high lead levels in drinking water if a state fails to do so.

Peters said Democrats also want a change in the law to allow the federal government to forgive $20 million in loans to Flint.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the Obama administration does not have a position yet on the proposal, and was not aware of any plans to place Flint under some kind of special category.

Soul singer and Detroit native Aretha Franklin told MSNBC on Thursday she was donating 50 hotel rooms nightly and money for food during the crisis, and has urged other Motown artists to help.

U.S. Representative Xavier Becerra, speaking in Baltimore at a Democratic retreat, said someone should be arrested. "What went down in Flint should cause someone to have a rap sheet," he said. "There should be some indictments.”

The Detroit Free Press reported on Thursday, citing state government emails released by liberal group Progress Michigan, that in January 2015 while state officials were telling Flint residents their water was safe to drink they were arranging for coolers of purified water in Flint's state office building.

The $28 million approved by the state will be used to provide bottled water and other supplies, put nurses in local schools and more.

(Additional Reporting by Mary Wisniewski in Chicago, Ben Klayman and Serena Maria Daniels in Detroit, Doina Chiacu and Jeff Mason in Washington and Richard Cowan in Baltimore; Editing by Alistair Bell and Bernard Orr)