USDA is committed to assisting residents affected by the Flint, Michigan, water crisis. While the water emergency in Flint remains primarily a public health crisis addressed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, USDA is committed to using all resources available to assist in the response and to provide relief to those affected by the water contamination. To date, USDA has provided the following assistance:
Food and Nutrition
In February 2016, USDA provided temporary approval of a request by Michigan to use WIC funds for lead testing costs on a time-limited basis. This flexibility will enable approximately 3,800 low-income infants, children, and pregnant or post-partum women to have access to lead screening tests at WIC clinics.
Also, USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) confirmed that vendors at the Flint Farmers Market are authorized to accept SNAP benefits and offer target foods high in Vitamin C, calcium, and iron. Market staff are promoting SNAP, SNAP-education materials, and working with a pediatric clinic on site to issue vouchers to purchase nutritious foods from the market.
In the affected Flint area, there are at least 28 schools, serving over 144,000 students, which are eligible to adopt a provision in the National School Lunch Program ensuring universal access to healthy food for all children in the school. USDA will work in collaboration with the state of Michigan to help as many eligible schools as possible adopt he Community Eligibility Provision. This provision is targeted at high-poverty schools and has proven successful in ensuring more kids benefit from nutritious school meals.
In January 2016, USDA approved the Michigan Department of Education's request for additional funds totaling $62,700 through the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which provides fresh fruits and vegetables at no cost to students in eligible schools. These funds, along with practical technical assistance on menu planning strategies, is designed to aid schools in identifying and incorporating more foods high in vitamin C, calcium, and iron that can help reduce lead levels in the body.
USDA, working with state and local officials, provided a list of items available through USDA Foods that are rich in Vitamin C, iron, and calcium. USDA Foods are healthy, high quality, 100 percent American-produced foods distributed to schools, food banks and other meal service providers to help stretch tight budgets and feed millions of Americans in need every year. This list will help MDE, the state administering agency for USDA's TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program), manage its inventory and deliver USDA Foods high in the targeted nutrients to the Flint food bank. The Flint food bank will then distribute the USDA Foods to their member food pantries, soup kitchens and other agencies.
In October 2015, USDA waived the National School Lunch Program requirement that schools make available potable tap water at school meal service, instead allowing schools to provide bottled water.
Since then, the local health department has been providing WIC participants with free water filters.
Since September 2015, USDA has allowed mothers of non-breastfed infants to use Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefits for ready-to-feed infant formula, which does not need to be mixed with water. USDA also allowed participants to swap previously acquired powdered formula for ready-to-feed formula. The 7,585 Flint residents participating in the WIC program (including 1,527 women, 1,792 infants, and 4,266 children) are being offered water filters, and other supportive services as well as nutrition education on mitigating lead absorption through dietary changes.
WIC foods currently provide good sources of calcium, iron and Vitamin C, nutrients that have been shown to help protect children's bodies from lead poisoning. Additionally, the WIC cash value voucher can be used to purchase fruits and vegetables that are rich in vitamin C and calcium.
USDA continues coordinating nutrition education efforts in Flint among the state administered USDA FNS program providers, community-based partner organizations and farmers' markets on important foods to consume to mitigate lead absorption. This education information ensures local schools and child care and day care operators serving meals under USDA programs continue to provide children the healthiest possible meals and share information with parents about preparing meals at home.
SNAP Nutrition Education (SNAP-Ed) programs and SNAP-authorized farmers markets help disseminate nutrition guidance about how to optimize participants' diets. To date, SNAP-Ed has distributed over 10,000 copies of nutrition and lead resources in the Flint area. Additional booklets are being printed, with revised recipes for the next wave of distribution, as well as, a Spanish version. This information captures not only the target foods to mitigate lead absorption but also provides helpful information on other food resources for Flint residents.
Michigan State University (MSU) Cooperative Extension, partially funded by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), is providing an educational response to the situation in Flint, MI. The state's extension system currently has 12 full-time employees in Flint and is leading the University wide response to the crisis, which includes MSU's College of Medicine and others. To date, the MSU Cooperative Extension has provided research based on how to eat healthy to prevent lead poisoning, including a diet with higher calcium, iron, and vitamin C http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/eat_healthy_to_prevent_lead_poisoning); modified its nutrition and cooking classes to feature foods high in these nutrients and developed educational materials mitigating risk from irrigated and non-irrigated home gardens; guidance for domesticated pet owners if they suspect lead poisoning; and general information about lead poisoning.
Using the College's existing relationships with the grower community, Cooperative Extension supported the Michigan Milk Producers Association and Kroger Co., with donating and shipping 12,000 gallons of milk into the city of Flint. MSU also is working with vegetable growers to ship additional vegetables containing high calcium, iron, and vitamin C into the city. Cooperative Extension is an integral part of the Flint Downtown Farmers Market, which is serving as a hub not only for produce but also health and nutrition extension education.
The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspects four federally regulated establishments in the Flint, Michigan area. FSIS assessed these establishments and found no potential public health impact. USDA continues to monitor the situation. As part of standard USDA food safety surveillance activities, the FSIS Eastern Laboratory in Athens, Georgia routinely tests for lead in meat. All meat and poultry products that have been produced in any of the Flint area establishments continue to be safe and wholesome for consumer consumption.