Is MDHHS Using Health Policy for a Political Campaign? Benton Harbor Water Part 2

As we saw last week, MDHHS hasn’t reported unusual numbers of high blood lead levels in the city on the Lake. By the department’s own numbers, other cities in Michigan have as many case numbers or more.

This week, the MDHHS count of Benton Harbor press releases reached 90. It begs the question:

Is MDHHS activity in Benton Harbor about something other than health policy?

At this point, both health policy and politics find their place in the timeline:

  • October 6, 2021 MDHHS released its first Benton Harbor water announcement.
  • On Oct. 14, 2021, the Benton Harbor Mayor addressed lead at a press conference at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) office in Benton Harbor.
  • In the same report, on Oct. 19, opponents filed a petition to recall the mayor – “the same day Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made an unannounced visit to Benton Harbor and appeared alongside [him] at a community “listening session.”
  • The petition language to recall Benton Harbor’s mayor was approved Nov 19. Signatures are due May 19.
  • At the end of March, the EPA announced procedural findings only – no problem with water quality in Benton Harbor. Yet MDHHS continues to press for extra precautions.
  • Michigan poured $60 Million into Benton Harbor between the supplemental appropriations bill just passed by the Legislature, and Michigan’s 2022 Budget.
  • April 1, the Benton Harbor mayor (D) declared he’s running for Congress in CD-4, the newly-redrawn district running up the Lake MI shoreline to Holland, MI.

I see three possible explanations for this confluence of health policy contradictions and election politics.

You be the judge:

  1. Is the MDHHS obsession with Benton Harbor water really about lead?
  2. Is the state sitting on guilt-inducing data that explains its overreaction?
  3. Or is MDHHS providing an elaborate health policy cover for the governor and mayor to come to a mutually-beneficial arrangement in an election year?

Many say there’s no such thing as bad publicity for political candidates. Free publicity at taxpayers’ expense might be considered a campaign windfall as well. And of course, there’s the old canard about never letting a crisis go to waste – even creating one if you have to.

I hope Option #3 isn’t true, but with the information we have, MDHHS sure doesn’t look good for fair and equal health policy.


— the MHF Research Team contributed to this article.