Think Progress is reporting that residents of Flint, MI are being forced to pay for poisoned water and threatened with shut-offs if they do not pay, even if they only use the water to flush their toilets.
In 2011, Flint lawmakers imposed a rapid 35 percent increase in water rates, against a city law that requires utility hikes to be implemented gradually, and started issuing shutoff notices to those who were past due. A judge halted the shutoffs last summer, ordering the city to undo the increase and revise customers’ bills. But the shutoff notices resumed in November based on the prior rates, going out to about 1,800 past due households.
And while they were paused for the December holiday season, they have once again resumed this week. Finance Director Jody Lundquist could not tell Michigan Live how many notices are expected to be sent out in this round.
Even residents who aren’t behind, though, are frustrated that they’re still being billed for water they can’t even drink. “The city is still billing residents for the contaminated water being pumped to their homes and expecting immediate payment,” Sylvia Orduno of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization explained in an email to ThinkProgress.
And the amounts demanded are quite high. In 2014, the Flint Journal reported that the average water and sewer bill in Flint was $140 a month. For anyone of limited means, that couldn’t come at a harder time. “The pace at which help is getting to residents is causing them further health consequences, suffering, and debt,” Orduno said. “Bottled water is an expensive alternative and requires constant, large supplies to meet the need.”
This policy is outrageous given that,
Concerns about the safety of the city’s drinking water began nearly as soon as it switched the source form Detroit to the Flint River, with residents complaining that it was cloudy, foul smelling, and bad tasting while potentially causing health problems. Officials kept insisting it was safe, however, despite a whistleblower’s claims that they knew of problems as early as July and may have rigged water tests to cover things up. In September, public research came out that linked the water switch to a significant increase in the levels of lead found in children’s bloodstreams.
Even as the crisis became clear, government was slow to react. Weeks after city officials declared a state of emergency, the state government did the same, and even then it took several days for bottled water to start getting handed out.
Now, 10 people have died from Legionnaires’ disease, potentially related to the water crisis. And the consequences of lead poisoning, particularly for children are life long and irreversible.
Extortion is a felony crime. Wikipedia defines it as follows,
Extortion (also called shakedown, outwrestling, and exaction) is a criminal offense of obtaining money, property, or services from a person, entity, individual or institution, through coercion.
In addition to killing people and lead-poisoning children for life, the City of Flint is threatening to cut-off water for waste purposes, if people don’t pay their water bills. That is assault, manslaughter and extortion.
Governor Rick Snyder and the Flint Finance Director Jody Lundquist deserve to spend the rest of their lives in prison.