Billions of dollars are being spent on Covid-19 relief needs, but water affordability for poor and dis-invested communities doesn't make the cut.
“Michigan schools get creative in spending federal Covid-19 relief funds.”
It was the “creative” in the Detroit Free Press headline that caught my eye
The relief funds are $6 billion in federal money that President Joe Biden said should be targeted at getting schools open post-pandemic. Congress said a significant part of the funding should be dedicated to help recapture lost-learning. It’s up to the states to dole out the money.
In a nutshell, the funds were to help students cope with the effects of the pandemic.
But the Free Press story put a spotlight on school districts’ creativity in their spending requests. Upgrading athletic facilities, new security systems, better nutrition via a smoothie bar and the list goes on. Are those really pandemic related issues? I doubt it.
I’ve got no ax to grind with the school districts. Many are cash-strapped and they’re taking advantage of a one-off opportunity by accessing federal largesse, warranted or not. That doesn’t make it right but it comes under the, everyone does it justification. It’s how it works in the U.S.
But how is it that federal Covid-19 relief money can be spent on smoothie bars, and none is spent on helping people in poor and dis-invested communities pay their water bills?
If there was ever a need for access to clean water, it’s during this ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
But as the states and the feds toss billions of dollars around like they’re nickels, cities like Detroit, Benton Harbor and others lack water affordability plans. Plans that remove the threat of ongoing shutoffs. What could be a better use Covid-19 relief and wellness funding?
But water affordability never seems to make the top of any politician’s agenda in Michigan.
While the Free Press story was about questionable use of federal funds, the state of Michigan is a bad actor too.
In its recent multi-billion dollar budget bill was an undefined grant of $50 million.Turns out it was for a private corporation to help jump-start a potash mine. An unnecessary venture that will take a couple million gallons of groundwater a day from an already sensitive area. (Scroll down for more on the mine.)
So as it always is, the neediest people are at the end of the funding line. The mining company will get its water while people in dis-invested communities struggle to pay water bills. And a school district will get a smoothie bar. And I'm not hearing outrage.
That’s where we are, and who we are.
Chicago-based environmental journalist