In the liberal worldview, Walmart is the anti-Christ for providing free drinking water to Flint's lead poisoning victims and President Obama is the Savior himself for releasing $80 million of other people's money to them.
"I want to thank President Obama for quickly responding to our request for federal assistance," U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, fawned.
"This is the type of leadership and action my community deserves," Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, gushed.
As it turns out, the president's aid is phonier than a three-dollar bill, because: It's not actually special; it isn't $80 million; it won't necessarily go to Flint's victims.
The 2016 omnibus spending bill put $1.4 billion in the Clean Water State Revolving Fund that Uncle Sam created decades ago to help states defray the cost of federal clean water mandates. It was clear from the start that the president was drawing from this fund. But what was less clear was that Michigan is getting only the money it was entitled to – not a penny extra.
As per standing law, every state gets a piece of the revolving fund pie as per a statutory formula that takes into account the state's geographical area, population etc. Michigan's share under this formula works out to 4.75 percent – or $66 million of the $1.4 billion. But in order to get this money, it has to put up matching funds of 20 percent or around $14 million. Add that together and you get the $80 million that Obama is taking full credit for.
But what's even worse than Obama's boasting is that, in reality, the bulk of the money may not even go to Flint residents. Why? It is up to state authorities to prioritize spending for various clean water infrastructure projects and the federal government doesn't have much say in it. That is not stopping President Obama from trying to strong-arm Michigan's leaders to divert this money to Flint. But to the extent that he succeeds, he'll potentially jeopardize the health of children elsewhere in the state, likely spreading, not containing, the tragedy.
If Michigan doesn't listen to him, however, Flint residents will get even less than the $1,000 each that I had previously reported they would, a slap in their face given how much they are suffering and how much they would have gotten if a private company had been responsible for a tragedy of this scale.
None of this is to suggest that Uncle Sam ought to feel compelled to hand Michigan extra cleanup dollars as some are suggesting (although the EPA has a hand in poisoning Flint residents too by staying mum when it knew that city water wasn't being treated for lead corrosion). That'll only create a moral hazard and make state leaders less accountable for screw-ups in future. Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash is entirely right that the state needs to take responsibility for the residents it poisoned and up its $28 million contribution. For example, it can divert the $30 million it spends on a totally useless Pure Michigan ad campaign to pay their medical bills.
But Obama shouldn't be pretending that he has – to use his words – "the back" of Flint residents when he's actually showing them his back. It would be far more honest and humane to tell them they are on their own.