Amid a crisis that has poisoned the water supply of an entire city, authorities in Flint, Michigan are under renewed fire on Friday for sending out shut-off notices to residents who are behind on paying their water bills.
Slammed as “ludicrous, the move comes as Republican Governor Rick Snyder finally asked President Obama to step in and declare a federal state of emergency.
Following a short holiday reprieve, Finance Director Jody Lundquist announced Wednesday that officials will resume sending an unspecified amount of shut-off notices to past-due accounts. According to Lundquist, the city already sent out 1,800 notices in November.
The move was immediately met with outrage among city and state residents, who say the people of Flint should not have to pay for the water that may have exposed them and their loved ones to irreversible lead poisoning.
“They have irreparably harmed children and families by poisoning the water,” Lonnie Scott, executive director for Progress Michigan, told Common Dreams. “It is ludicrous that they would even consider sending shut-off notices.”
“All arrears should be cleared,” Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, told Detroit Free Press on Monday. “No one should have to pay for this.”
The city has already been rebuked for dramatically—and suddenly—hiking water rates 35 percent in 2011. A Genesee circuit court judge ruled in August that this hike was unlawful and ordered an injunction. The city claims that the latest rounds of shut-off notices were based on decreased water and sewer rates since the injunction.
But this claim did not temper anger, particularly in a scenario that invokes the related crisis in Detroit—where mass water shut-offs provoked a public health crisis so severe that United Nations officials declared a human rights emergency.
The water crises in both Flint and Detroit were enforced by emergency managers appointed by Republican governor Rick Snyder. Both cities are majority black, with high levels of poverty, and many charge that the state’s undermining of local democracy was racist and undemocratic at its core.
The water crisis in Flint prompted the resignation of Michigan’s top environmental official, as well as mounting calls for the arrest of Snyder.
According to Scott, true culpability extends far beyond any one official—to the logic of austerity itself. “Emergency management in Michigan, along with decades of Republican austerity, are what has caused these disasters,” said Scott. “The attack on democracy is where this is all beginning.”
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