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by Willy Blackmore, reprinted from Word in Black.

But so far only lawyers have seen any money.

In 2021, when a settlement between the state of Michigan and residents of Flint was approved, there was a sense that those who were affected by the water crisis were close to reaching some kind of closure.

“Flint families are finally going to get some justice,” lawyer Corey Stern, who represented 4,000 children from the majority Black city, said at the time. But today, as we approach the 10-year anniversary of the April day when the administration of then-Governor Rick Snyder switched the city’s water source from the City of Detroit to the corrosive Flint River, residents still haven’t seen a dime.

The only people who have been paid out of the $626 million fund that the settlement established have been lawyers who worked on the many, many cases that were rolled up into one mega lawsuit.

“No single person who has actually been affected by the water crisis here will see a million dollars, 16-year-old environmental activist Mari Copeney, known as Little Miss Flint, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “And y’all wonder why I continue to say Flint is still in crisis.”

This is partly by design: the settlement stipulated that no one would get paid until every single claim had been resolved. And with around 90,000 claims in total included in the so-called mass tort lawsuit against the state, the process was always going to take time. That’s part of the reason why similar cases often start out with a low payment made to most (if not all) claimants, with additional money distributed if warranted as the individual claims are combed over.

The Flint approach may help lawyers land on more accurate payments, but the slow pace has its downsides, too. As the Detroit Free Press reports, there are claimants who died waiting for compensation from the victims fund.

And with around 80% of the money earmarked for victims who were minors during the crisis — and thereby subject to the worst developmental and cognitive effects of lead poisoning — the longer wait means that they will be further and further along in their education, if not out of school altogether, by the time they receive payments that could help defer the cost of tutoring or other educational expenses that might have arisen over the past decade.

“Not a single penny for the people here yet, especially the kids that need it the most,” Copeney wrote on X.

The process of submitting a claim required reams of documentation and other paperwork — a process the court attempted to make easier by obtaining millions of documents (from utility bills to blood testing results) on behalf of claimants, as well as making it easier for claimants to prove property ownership.

More money has been made available to victims since 2021, thanks to additional settlements (and tentative settlements) reached with two engineering firms that worked on Flint water issues. Together, they amount to $33 million, and the state’s settlement fund has also earned some $75 million in interest.

Meanwhile, the lawyers who worked on the case asked the judge for (and received) a preliminary payment toward the some $200 million in fees that they are owed for eight years of work.

But everyone else has to just continue to wait.