by Mayor Tom Barrett
As we celebrate this Martin Luther King Day, we honor a great man and a great legacy. Dr. King gave his life to advance the cause of civil rights, peace and jobs. Perhaps there is no greater tribute to this martyr and true believer in the power of nonviolence than honoring him with his own words: “If a man hasn’t found something to die for, he isn’t fit to live.”
Martin Luther King Day also reminds us of the obstacles African Americans faced fi ghting for the right to vote. The 15th and 19th Amendments to the U. S. Constitution guaranteed citizens voting rights, but African Americans still faced legal and illegal impediments that prevented them from voting. These barriers included poll taxes, literacy tests, harassment and physical violence. However, after a nearly 100-year-long battle, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law in 1965 to end all forms of voting discrimination and expand voting rights for non-English speaking Americans.
As we reflect on Dr. King’s legacy and the tradition of civil rights, it is important and timely to promote greater understanding about another fundamental right – the right to be counted in the 2010 census. The importance of counting every person living here has far greater ramifi cations than just completing an accurate count of our population. Census data will determine how more than $400 billion in federal dollars will be distributed to state and local governments over the next decade.
To bring it even closer to home, our City government receives millions of dollars each year from federal programs that distribute funding based on census data – funding for public safety, community and economic development, job training and a host of other priorities. As Mayor of the City of Milwaukee, it is my duty to make sure these funds are spent wisely and make every dollar count. Here are some examples of how my Administration is putting these funds to good use:
Building Safe Neighborhoods: The Police Department receives U. S. Department of Justice grants that are distributed based on population figures each year. These funds have been used to fund important crime prevention efforts – initiatives that have helped contribute to double digit decreases in the overall crime rate. The City’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Bryne Justice Formula allocation alone totaled $4 million in 2009.
Connecting People to Jobs: The Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board receives approximately $15 million a year from the Department of Labor to support job training and workforce development initiatives. We tripled the number of youth hired through the Summer Jobs Program this past summer and continue to serve adults seeking jobs in collaboration with other community partners.
Promoting Community and Economic Development: The City’s share of Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds allocated last year was $25 million and has remained relatively consistent over the past several years. I have authorized HUD Community Development Block Grant dollars for Large Impact Development Projects such as Teutonia Gardens at the corner of Teutonia and Center Streets and the Latino Geriatric Center 2nd story expansion of its existing structure on 9th Street.
Preserving Homeownership: The Milwaukee Foreclosure Partnership Initiative I launched in 2008 to help local residents facing the threat of foreclosure and others in need of housing assistance is currently supported with HUD Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) funding totaling $9 million.
These are just a few examples, and I haven’t even touched on federal resources that come to other government entities such as county and state government – dollars for roads, transportation, education, health care, senior citizen centers and more.
Census data is also used to draw legislative districts and determine how many seats Wisconsin will have in the U. S. House of Representatives. The impact of an undercount could weaken our voice in government.
When your census form arrives in March, please fill it out and drop it into a mailbox by April 1, 2010, Census Day. The new questionnaire, which every residential household will receive, is the shortest ever and takes less than 10 minutes to complete. It asks 10 simple questions about members of your household, including name, gender, age, race, ethnicity, and whether you own or rent your home. That’s it, and it is completely safe and private.
In Milwaukee, we comprise a vast kaleidoscope of people representing diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Diversity is our strength and the key to our future growth and prosperity. In 2010, we have the power to define who we are as a community and as a nation by achieving a complete census count. Let’s honor the legacy of Dr. King and the tradition of civil rights this upcoming census! Milwaukee’s future is in our hands. We control our destiny. Let us all stand up and be counted!