Foundations join to pledge millions amid Flint water crisis

Ten local, state and national foundations pledged tens of millions of dollars Wednesday toward helping Flint recover from the crisis spurred by lead contamination and other problems with its drinking water.

The effort is led by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, a longtime Flint-based organization founded by an automotive pioneer that's committing $50 million in new and existing grants this year and $100 million overall during the next five years. The money aims to support work in six areas: safe drinking water, health care, early education, nonprofits, community engagement and economic development. Other groups pledging money for Flint are the Carnegie Corp. of New York and the Ford, Kresge, Robert Wood Johnson, Skillman, W.K. Kellogg, Hagerman, Ruth Mott and FlintNOW foundations. Others are expected to join them.

Researchers and doctors last year reported high levels of lead in the blood of Flint children, for whom the heavy metal can cause lower IQs and behavioral problems. The contamination occurred when the city, which was under emergency management at the time, switched in 2014 from the Detroit utility system to the Flint River. State environmental regulators mistakenly told the city not to add a chemical to prevent lead from leaching out of old pipes.

Mott Foundation President Ridgway White said the "crisis is far from over." He added that some money and services have been provided, but the city still awaits more from the state and federal governments for replacing damaged infrastructure and for long-term child health and education.

"On a federal level, we've had a lot of attention, but we haven't had a lot of direct support in terms of dollars," White told The Associated Press. "I know people are getting water fatigue across the country hearing about Flint. For the people who have to live without being able to drink the water every day ... and not having basic human services being met ... we need state and federal governments to step up."

"Our dollars are designed to complement the proposed state budget, and find the gaps that are appropriate for foundations and philanthropies to engage in," White added.

Gov. Rick Snyder and state legislators have authorized roughly $70 million in state and federal funds for the emergency and Snyder is seeking $165 million more through the budget process. The U.S. Senate, meanwhile, may soon consider a $220 million package for Flint. President Barack Obama, speaking in Flint last week, promised more help for the ailing city but warned recovery would take time.

The collaboration announced Wednesday represents a mix of new and continuing commitments. For instance, the Ruth Mott Foundation announced $1 million in February in response to the crisis and more recently awarded $1.3 million to strengthen north Flint neighborhoods and create opportunities. The Kresge Foundation's roughly $2.5 million for various purposes and projects combines new and existing grants, and many are being accelerated as part of the collaboration with the other foundations. The Kellogg Foundation says its award of up to $5 million during the next year represents new money for education, health and community engagement causes.

"It's one of our goals to draft a narrative of hope for the citizens of Flint," White said. "People have been suffering long enough."