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Posts Distort Facts on Obama, Flint

Quick Take

Social media posts distort the facts to misleadingly claim that President Barack Obama “declared Flint water crisis a National Emergency and never fixed it.”

Full Story

After President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to secure funding for his proposed border wall, misleading social media posts took aim at the decision by contrasting it with the Flint, Michigan, water crisis.

Now, Facebook posts are again invoking that water contamination issue, this time directing ire at former President Barack Obama.

“Here is another fun fact!” the posts read. “Obama declared Flint water crisis a National Emergency and never fixed it.”

That’s misleading, too.

As we previously wrote, Obama signed an emergency declaration for Michigan in January 2016 — a move that allowed for federal resources to aid in the response to the lead contamination in the city’s water supply.

There’s a distinction between that emergency and the national emergency declared by Trump, which cites the National Emergencies Act and aims to divert billions in federal funds to finance the wall.

The emergency declaration signed by Obama was a designation under the Stafford Act, a disaster relief law, that allowed for federal aid of up to $5 million (not including additional assistance from federal agencies that didn’t require the declaration). Such emergency declarations bolster state or local “efforts in providing emergency services, such as the protection of lives, property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in any part of the United States,” the Federal Emergency Management Agency notes.

The federal government’s response included measures such as distributing water and providing water filters and water sampling. The emergency declaration ended in August 2016.

According to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, “[s]ince July 2016, the city of Flint’s water system has tested below action levels of the federal Lead and Copper Rule (LCR).” In early 2018, the state declared the water quality “restored” after repeated tests showed that 90 percent of samples from “higher risk” locations were below half the federal threshold of 15 parts per billion (ppb) for the Lead and Copper Rule.

Obama also signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act in December 2016. The act provided $170 million for communities grappling with drinking water emergencies and Flint was specifically mentioned as an intended recipient. The Environmental Protection Agency officially awarded Flint $100 million of the WIIN-authorized funding in March 2017, then under the Trump administration, to help fund water infrastructure replacements and upgrades.

That’s not to say the federal government’s response was without criticism. The EPA’s Office of Inspector General, for example, said in a 2018 report that the agency’s response was “delayed, in part, because the EPA did not establish clear roles and responsibilities, risk assessment procedures, effective communication and proactive oversight tools.” It cited “implementation and oversight lapses” at the local, state and federal levels.

Work remains ongoing to replace lead and galvanized steel pipes throughout Flint, and distribution of donated bottled water has continued in the meantime. Even so, to say “Obama declared Flint water crisis a National Emergency and never fixed it” is misleading in several respects. 

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on the social media network.


The Disaster Declaration Process.” Federal Emergency Management Agency. 8 Jan 2018.

EPA Awards $100 Million to Michigan for Flint Water Infrastructure Upgrades.” Press release, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 17 Mar 2017.

Federal Response by the Numbers – Flint, Michigan.” Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed 4 Mar 2019.

Flint Water Quality Restored, Testing Well Below Federal Action Level and Comparable to Other Cities Across the State.” Press release, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. 12 Jan 2018.

Flint’s Water Remains Stable, Continues to Test Well Below Federal Action.” Press release, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. 18 Jul 2018.

Fonger, Ron. “Virginia Tech: Testing shows ‘amazing’ Flint water improvements.” MLive.com. 2 Dec 2016.

McCarthy, Francis X. “Federal Stafford Act Disaster Assistance: Presidential Declarations, Eligible Activities, and Funding.” Congressional Research Service. 7 Jun 2011.

Management Weaknesses Delayed Response to Flint Water Crisis.” Office of Inspector General, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 19 Jul 2018.

National Emergency Powers.” Congressional Research Service. 27 Feb 2019.

Pipes Excavated at 20,490 Flint Homes To Date through Mayor Weaver’s FAST Start Initiative.” Press release, City of Flint, Michigan. 28 Jan 2019.

President Obama Signs Michigan Emergency Declaration.” Press release, Obama White House. 16 Jan 2016.

Presidential Proclamation on Declaring a National Emergency Concerning the Southern Border of the United States.” White House. 15 Feb 2019.

Snyder, Richard D. Governor, Michigan. Letter to President Barack Obama. 14 Jan 2016.

Statement by the President on the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act.” Press release, Obama White House. 16 Dec 2016.

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Monday, February 25, 2019