Michigan lawmakers began approving a US$30 million compensation pact on Thursday that will help pay the water bills of Flint residents whose water supply became contaminated with lead nearly two years ago.
The bill was passed unanimously by the state Senate one day after Governor Rick Snyder formally announced the plan. It could go to Michigan’s House of Representatives for consideration as soon as next week.
Flint's water remains tainted with lead from old pipes after the city switched its supply source in April 2014 and has forced residents to use filters before consuming.
Consuming lead can be particularly harmful to the developing brains of fetuses and young children, with other effects ranging from learning difficulties, behavioural issues and convulsions.
"Flint residents will not have to pay for water they cannot drink," Snyder said in a statement to the AP late Tuesday.
"My budget recommendation will include the request that the state make payments to the city's water system for residential bills going back to April 2014 and alleviate the need for residential water shutoffs."
The governor apologized for the tainted water and said the compensation package would cover the estimated portion of residential customers' utility bills for water that has been or will be used for drinking, cooking, bathing and washing hands.
However, under the proposed legislation, customers would still be responsible for paying for water used to flush toilets, water lawns, and wash clothes.
Officials hope the water is declared safe to drink again without a filter by spring.
100,000 people in Flint have been poisoned, and incredibly, Senate Republicans want to do nothing about it. — Senator Harry Reid (@SenatorReid) February 4, 2016
Should the bill be passed by the House of Representatives, 21,000 customers who continued to pay their bills, including those who have since moved away, would get a credit for 65 percent of the water portion of their combined water and sewer bill.
Whereas 9,000 residential customers, who didn’t pay for their water bills during the period from 2014, will be put on a payment plan and receive 35 percent of their water fees.
The proposed compensation package has been roundly criticised by Democrats. Michigan Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a Democrat from Flint, told the AP that it was unacceptable to offer a “partial refund for a product that was not only unfit for use, but actually poisoned” people.
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