Make no mistake: Flint, Michigan is a microcosm of what we will become under GOP rule. It is a GOP horror story coming to your town.
Consider the plight of 76-year-old widow Mary Huddleston.
The city of Flint installed a new water meter in Huddleston’s house in December of last year. In January she got a bill for $1,090. When she called to question the bill, she was told that previous bills had been underestimated and she now owed the city back payments.
“How is that my fault?” asks Huddleston. “I told them there was no way I could pay this. I wrote letters. I asked for an administrative review, but the day before the appointment, they called and said I couldn’t get a meeting because their lawyers weren’t there.
“People are moving away and a lot of people I talked to said they weren’t paying it because we can’t even drink the water. But I’m old; they know I’m stuck here.” Huddleston said.
At least Huddleston isn’t one of the over 8,000 people who received shutoff notices for non-payment of bills for water they can’t drink. That number is up dramatically from 31 shutoff notices sent out in March to residents owing $2,000 to $5,600. State funded assistance stopped at the end of February. Not only will residents’ water be shut off, the city will place tax liens against their homes if they don’t pay by May 19. The only reason Huddleston escaped that fate is because she paid the minimum amount required by the city to keep her undrinkable water flowing.
Why did this happen?
The water coming out of the taps in Flint, Michigan is still unsafe to drink. But that didn’t stop Governor Rick Snyder from ending the state funded water bill relief program. Snyder maintained there is no need to continue assistance to the beleaguered city because the lead in the water has dropped below the federal actionable limit of 15 parts per billion during the last six months of testing. The latest round of testing put Flint in the 90th percentile at 12 ppb, but higher than the 10ppb that Snyder says he wants written into law. The EPA has said there is no known level of lead that is safe in drinking water
According to Flint’s interim chief financial officer David Sabuda, the cessation of state assistance means that the city now has two water bills it has to pay out of its empty coffers each month: $1.2 million to the Great Lakes Water Authority and about $440,000 against its debt for the new Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline, even though the city is still months away from using it. Without anywhere else to turn, city officials are turning to the residents to pay for the water that the city tells them is unsafe to drink unless it has been filtered.
In a statement, Sabuda said, “Customer payments are necessary to help the city of Flint collect the funds needed to pay over $1.2 million per month for treated water and provide for water and sewer services as Flint continues to recover from the effects of the manmade water crisis. It is important that these customers address their unpaid balances.”
In a statement to Vox, Mayor Karen Weaver said, “I feel like my hands are tied. This is the law, and we have to follow the law. But we are working to see if any changes or something can be done to help the residents affected by this.”
Meanwhile, longtime Flint resident and activist Melissa Mays is one of those who got a pay up or face a tax lien notice. She owes $891 to the city. Her plan? Skip her car and mortgage payments because she doesn’t want to lose her home. She doesn’t think it’s fair, but what other choice does she have?
“The state had been paying our $1.2 million water bill to Detroit,” Mays said. “But they just decided to stop paying it, even though they know our water is not better. We didn’t make the choice to switch the water, but we have to foot the bill.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, sums up the GOP method of doing things: Hand out huge tax breaks to the wealthy, screw things up and make those who can least afford it pay.