DETROIT – Thousands of Flint, Mich., children are expected to receive extra money this month for nutritional foods that can limit the effects of lead exposure.
But the unknown number of families who fled the city in the midst of the crisis to get away from the lead-contaminated water won’t be eligible, even though their children may suffer health effects.
Among them is 4-year-old Sincere Smith — the boy who became one of the most recognized faces of the water crisis when his picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
That’s because the $7 million in additional food assistance is going to about 15,000 kids who qualify for food assistance benefits and live in Flint, but not those who moved from the city, like Sincere and his family did last year.
“If I had moved to another state, I could understand being treated differently and everything, but moving just 15 minutes away, I feel like … it’s kind of unfair,” said Sincere’s mom, Ariana Hawk. “I’m still within Genesee County.”
She told the Detroit Free Press she thinks all kids affected by the Flint water crisis should be entitled to the same benefits, even if they don’t live in the city anymore or don’t qualify for food assistance benefits.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services determined eligibility based on how they felt was the best way to allocate the limited money, spokesman Bob Wheaton said.
“We decided that we wanted to focus on providing this nutritional food to people who are still living in Flint,” he said.
Qualifying families will get a one-time payment of $420 per eligible child, which will be automatically added to their Bridge cards, state officials said. That money, in addition to other food assistance, is intended to be used throughout the year and is on top of the $30 per month per child that families started receiving in March.
‘The most in need’
Michigan’s HHS will issue the funds based on food assistance eligibility to allow it to focus on assisting the families who are “the most in need,” Wheaton said. It can be used to purchase food that qualifies under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but the department recommends recipients spend the money on foods high in calcium, vitamin C and iron.
The $7 million comes from federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant dollars, officials said.
To be eligible for the payment, residents must have lived in a Flint ZIP code identified as being served by the city of Flint water system on Feb. 28 and still live in such ZIP code April 1.
Hawk, a mother of five who range in age from 3 months to 10 years, said she moved her family to nearby Swartz Creek last year because of ongoing issues with the water.
“I moved because it was the best decision for me and my kids,” she said.
While in the city, she cleaned Sincere’s itchy, irritated skin using a washcloth and bowl of distilled water heated in the microwave or with wet wipes. He developed rough patches on his legs, arms and face after Flint switched its water supply source from Lake Huron to the Flint River in April 2014, Hawk said.
The boy’s face became synonymous with the Flint water crisis when a photo of him appeared on the cover of Time in January 2016. Sincere’s skin has since cleared up.
His family lived in Flint during the peak of lead exposure, drank the water and cooked with it before the lead issue was revealed. The city’s water became contaminated when corrosion-control chemicals weren’t added after the water source change, causing lead to leach from pipes, joints and fixtures.