WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama next week will make his first trip to Flint, Michigan, since the city was found to have lead-tainted drinking water, a trip aimed at reassuring residents their plight hasn't been forgotten and pressuring Congress to approve economic aid, the White House said Wednesday.
Obama is due to receive a briefing on the federal effort to assist in the cleanup and to hear directly from Flint residents about the toll the contamination has had on their health and their lives. Obama said he plans to "use my voice to call for change" in Flint.
The city's water system became tainted in 2014 when it removed itself from the Detroit water system and began drawing water from the Flint River to save money. Regulators failed to ensure the water was properly treated and lead from old pipes leached into the water supply.
Two state officials and a local official have been charged with evidence tampering and other crimes in a Michigan attorney general's investigation. A federal investigation is also under way.
The White House announced Obama's trip by posting online a letter the president wrote to Flint resident Amariyanna "Mari" Copeny. The 8-year-old activist known as "Little Miss Flint" wrote to Obama last month to tell him she was coming to Washington to push lawmakers to do more for the city.
In a letter dated April 25, Obama responded by telling Copeny that he wanted her to be first to know about his visit. He told her he hoped to meet her and promised to "use my voice to call for change and help lift up your community."
"I want to make sure people like you and your family are receiving the help you need and deserve," Obama wrote.
Obama's visit comes as senators reached a bipartisan agreement on new federal aid for Flint. The package would authorize $100 million in grants and loans to replace lead-contaminated pipes in Flint and other cities, as well as $70 million in credit subsidies for loans to improve water infrastructure across the country. The deal also includes money for bolster lead-prevention programs nationwide.
The agreement is virtually identical to a one crafted earlier this year, but derailed by opposition from Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who said the state didn't need the federal aid.
"We would certainly welcome a greater commitment, or frankly, any commitment from Republicans in Congress in responding to this situation," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Wednesday.
Earnest said the president hoped to "demonstrate that while the public discussion of this situation doesn't retain the same spot in the limelight, the administration is committed to following through on helping that community recover."