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Flint residents just received a settlement, but not everyone is jumping for joy

The $626 million settlement over lead-contaminated water poses an important question: How much is enough to pay for systemic poisoning?

At long last, a federal judge on Wednesday officially approved a $626 million settlement for some residents of Flint, Michigan, who were impacted by the city’s lead-contaminated water supply. Michigan officials and the plaintiffs first agreed to the settlement last year. 

The Flint water crisis began in 2014 after Michigan officials switched the city’s water supply over to the Flint River without treating it properly. The crisis continued in Flint — a majority-Black city for a half-decade, demonstrating the historic neglect officials in Michigan and elsewhere have shown toward Black and brown people. 

U.S. District Judge Judith Levy called the settlement a “remarkable achievement” in her ruling, noting it creates “a comprehensive compensation program and timeline that is consistent for every qualifying participant.” That means everyone who qualifies should get paid in a timely manner. 

MSNBC / Getty; AP

Ted Leopold, one of the lead attorneys representing Flint residents, called the settlement “a historic and momentous day for the residents of Flint, who will finally begin to see justice served.”

“Though we can never undo what has occurred, this settlement makes clear that those who egregiously violate the law and harm their communities will be held accountable,” he said in a statement Wednesday.

Roughly 80 percent of the funds will go to people who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crisis, with a large majority of that being paid to children ages 6 and younger. That’s because children are at heightened risk to experience long-term effects from lead poisoning, including learning disabilities, behavioral issues and problems with hearing and speech. The rest of the funds have been designated for adults, owners of businesses and properties that sustained damage due to the contamination and special education services in Genesee County, which includes Flint.

All of this poses an essential question, though: Is $626 million enough in response to systemic poisoning? I appreciate the acknowledgment from Leopold that officials can “never undo what has occurred,” because the physical and psychological impacts of state officials’ disregard for Flint will linger even after the last dollar of this settlement is spent. Some locals agree.

Multiple residents, along with current and former city officials, decried the amount and the parameters around some of the settlement money, local news outlet MLive reported Wednesday. One of them was former Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, who was elected after the crisis erupted. 

“When will we get something reflective of what we are worth? When does that happen?” Weaver said. “We haven’t gotten it in the settlement. We haven’t gotten it in the criminal cases. I mean, we just seem to be devalued people here in the city of Flint.”

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