Updated: August 16, 2016
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
USDA authorized, on a time limited basis, blood lead testing at clinics for participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
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 approximately 7,600 Flint residents participating in the WIC program (including around 1,500 women, 1,800 infants, and 4,300 children) are being offered supportive services as well as nutrition education on mitigating lead absorption through dietary changes. Given an expansion of Medicaid in Flint, recently announced by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more area residents will be income-eligible for WIC.
WIC foods contain good sources of calcium, iron and Vitamin C, nutrients that have been shown to help reduce the absorption of lead in children's bodies. Additionally, the WIC cash value voucher can be used to purchase fruits and vegetables that are good sources of vitamin C and calcium.
School Nutrition Programs
USDA is promoting access to healthy school lunches by encouraging all eligible Flint Community Schools and other Flint-area schools to consider participating in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). The CEP ensures access to free school meals for all children enrolled in a school. In the affected Flint area, at least 28 schools, serving over 144,000 students, are eligible to adopt this provision. USDA is working in collaboration with the state of Michigan to help as many eligible schools as possible adopt the provision. This provision targets 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 (MDE) 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, are designed to aid schools in identifying and incorporating more foods high in vitamin C, calcium, and iron that may help reduce lead levels in the body. In August 2016, USDA approved MDE's request for additional FFVP funds in the amount of $158,750 for immediate expansion of the FFVP in Flint, which will be used to provide grants to all eligible Genesse County schools that applied and qualified for SY 2016-17 FFVP funds.
In October 2015, USDA waived the National School Lunch Program requirement that schools make available drinking water at school meal service for the remainder of the school year.
USDA Farmers Market Programs
USDA-authorized vendors at the Flint Farmers Market accept SNAP EBT benefits. Some vendors offer target foods high in Vitamin C, calcium, and iron. During the growing season, some produce vendors also accept WIC Farmers Market Project Fresh coupons. In addition, some vendors accept Double Up Food Bucks, a healthy food incentive program of Michigan's Fair Food Network. See below.
In response to the Flint water crisis, Michigan's Fair Food Network has expanded its Double Up Food Bucks (Double Up) program in Flint. Double Up is available at the Flint Farmers Market and multiple grocery locations in Flint. Locations will run year-round at all participating sites in Flint. At all participating Double Up sites in Flint, any fruit, vegetable, or milk purchase earns matching Double Up Food Bucks (up to $20/day) that can be spent on any additional fresh produce. (Fresh, dried, canned, or frozen fruits or vegetables with no added sugar, salt, or oil are eligible to earn Double Up benefits.)
In April 2016, USDA granted Michigan the funds to extend its Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) pilot project to the Flint-area. This summer, more than 39,000 children in Flint and Genesee County, including children who receive free and reduced-price meals during the school year or who live or attend school in areas directly impacted by lead contamination, are eligible to receive a $30 benefit package each summer month. The nutritious foods in this package may help mitigate the effects of lead absorption. Information on leveraging nutrition to minimize the impact of lead absorption is included in Summer EBT informational documents.
In June 2016, USDA granted households participating in Summer EBT in the Flint-area greater flexibility in redeeming their benefits to ensure participants can take full advantage of their nutritional assistance. First, households who are unable to redeem their June benefits before the end of the month will have their expired benefits reactivated. Second, any July benefits that remain at the end of the month will be rolled over into August. These two special flexibilities will allow households to redeem their entire benefit allotment as needed with fewer restrictions.
USDA Foods / TEFAP
USDA, in collaboration with state and local officials, provided a list of items available through USDA Foods that are rich in Vitamin C, iron, and calcium, which may help mitigate the effects of lead in the body. 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. 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.
In addition, in June 2016, USDA announced that it will provide additional food to TEFAP recipients of in the Flint area to help address the ongoing crisis. Working with local food banks and feeding organizations, USDA will provide an additional 14-pound nutrient-targeted food package, containing foods rich in calcium, iron, and Vitamin C – which are believed to help limit the absorption of lead in the body – to more than 17,000 low-income, Flint-area households. These boxes will be available each month for four months beginning in September 2016. This food is in addition to the regular allotment that TEFAP recipients currently receive.
USDA supports the coordination of nutrition education efforts in Flint among state-administered USDA program providers, community-based partner organizations and farmers' markets to provide information on important foods to consume that may mitigate lead absorption and improve overall nutritional status. Specifically, USDA participates in the Michigan Nutrition Task Force and identifies and reviews nutrition education resources. 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.
In April 2016, USDA produced a short video and several public service announcements (PSA's) for Flint residents about how to fight lead absorption with good nutrition by consuming key nutrients that can help the body fight lead absorption (calcium, Vitamin C and iron). The 15 and 30 second PSA's were distributed to Flint area TV and radio stations for inclusion in their rotations. The two minute video has been widely shared with Flint federal, state, and local partners.
SNAP Nutrition Education (SNAP-Ed) programs and SNAP-authorized farmers markets help disseminate nutrition guidance about how to optimize participants' diets. Michigan State University (MSU) Extension, one of the two Michigan SNAP-Ed implementing agencies, has distributed 24,000 copies of its two-page fact sheet, "Fight Lead with Nutrition," in the Flint area. MSU Extension has developed Spanish, Arabic, Hmong and Chinese versions of this fact sheet.
In November 2015 MSU developed a "Nutrition and Lead" recipe booklet that was distributed to 10,000 families via nutrition education classes, workshops and through local partners. It provided practical knowledge on the importance of nutrition in limiting the effects of lead exposure, low-cost recipes high in calcium, iron and vitamin C, and information on how to enroll in food security programs such as WIC, WIC-Project Fresh, Double Up Food Bucks and SNAP. MSU is updating the recipe booklet with more low-cost recipes and developing a Spanish version.
Michigan State University (MSU) Cooperative Extension, partially funded by USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and Food & Nutrition Service SNAP-Ed, are providing an educational response to the situation. 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 materials on how to eat healthy to reduce the likelihood of lead poisoning, including adopting a diet with higher calcium, iron, and vitamin C; modified its nutrition and cooking classes to feature foods high in these nutrients; developed educational materials mitigating risk from irrigated and non-irrigated home gardens; and provided 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., by donating and shipping 12,000 gallons of milk to Flint. MSU also is working with vegetable growers to ship additional vegetables containing calcium, iron, and vitamin C. Cooperative Extension is an integral part of the Flint Downtown Farmers Market, which serves as a hub not only for produce but also health and nutrition education.
Michigan Fitness Foundation (MFF) is the second Michigan SNAP-Ed implementing agency. MFF utilizes SNAP-Ed to educate children about healthy eating, providing taste tests of fruits and vegetables at farmers' markets and schools, and expanding its social marketing campaign in Flint to focus on dairy, fruits, and vegetables. MFF educates through early childhood education programs to help increase nutrient-rich diets in preschool children by reaching children and their parents, as well as child care professionals.
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.
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