Obama pledges more than $1B to support U.S. cities, $80M for Flint water crisis

By Doug G. Ware  |  Jan. 21, 2016 at 8:21 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 21 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama on Thursday pledged millions in financial assistance to the mayors of 250 American cities, including $80 million to go toward easing the water crisis in Flint, Mich.

They mayors visited the White House Thursday afternoon to hear Obama's address, in which he said the city leaders are the first line of defense for millions of constituents who need help and rely on critical services from local governments.

"Thanks to all of you, America has made extraordinary progress over the past seven years," Obama said at the Conference of Mayors in the White House Briefing Room. "Mayors can't wait for Congress. Mayors can't get stuck in partisan gridlock."

In his eight and-a-half minute speech, Obama noted that the gathering of mayors included leaders from both sides of the aisle.

"Frankly, if you're a mayor nobody cares what your party is. They care what you're getting done," he said. "You don't have a lot of time for bluster and boloney."

The commander in-chief pledged $80 million in federal grants to help repair utility infrastructure in the city of Flint, where residents haven'e been able to drink or use contaminated water. The city started collecting its fresh water from the Flint River in 2014, but old water pipes have been leaking lead into the supply and posing a serious health risk.

Earlier this month, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency over the threat. Thursday, Obama called it an "inexcusable situation" and said the federal government has a responsibility to help return the city's water supply to a safe level.

"We are going to have that funding available to you by the end of next week," he noted. "Our children should not have to be worried about the water that they are drinking in American cities. That's not something that we should accept."

Obama noted other issues that the federal support is intended to address, like homelessness and gun violence -- which has been a major hot button issue in the United States in recent months. Earlier this month, Obama attended a town hall meeting in Virginia to address executive actions he ordered that seek to mitigate the harm does on American streets.

"All of you are facing some chronic challenges," he said.

"We are going to have stronger cities, stronger states and a stronger country if we make sure that every young person, particularly so many of our young men, are steered away from crime and away from prison and are getting the skills they need to live out productive lives."

The president said he also hoped to accomplish additional criminal justice reforms before he leaves office in a year.

Obama said he would make available $1 billion in grants to more than a dozen state and local governments to fight the effects of climate change. The largest, $176 million, is earmarked for flood protection New York City.

Obama also said he hoped to implement reforms making it easier for U.S. citizens to vote.

"We have seen our cities take a leadership and we have seen transformations of communities across this country."

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