By Chantel Byrd and Dawn Shelton-Williams
The past seven months have revealed a variety of challenges facing our city – from the continuing COVID-19 pandemic to the ongoing reality of racial injustice. These are not new issues – but they do shine a light on longstanding problems and well-established disparities that have existed for decades.
Unfortunately, it is no secret that Milwaukee faces some deadly disparities around health. Addressing those inequalities and building health equity is at the core of the mission of the American Heart Association (AHA), to be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. As volunteer leaders, we are working hard to address the public health crises – both immediate and ongoing – that are facing our community.
We want everyone in our community to live without barriers to optimal health. But unfortunately, too many residents continue to experience health disparities daily, which have only been further exasperated by COVID-19.
Across the country we’ve seen elected leaders invest in evidenced based strategies that can help meet today’s challenges, while also building a foundation for long-term health. To that end, we are asking the Milwaukee Common Council to invest in the following initiatives in the City’s 2021 budget:
• Complete Streets: Getting around by walking or biking continues to be too difficult and unsafe for far too many residents, particularly those in underserved communities. Complete Streets projects help improve health and safety for residents, while also benefiting the local economy. We must prioritize these projects so that all residents can safely walk, bike and be active in their neighborhood.
• SNAP fruit and vegetable incentive programs: Several states and communities across the country have created incentive programs, providing additional funding for SNAP participants to purchase healthy foods (oftentimes called Double Dollars or Market Match). These programs are a win for families, farmers and the local economy. With need at an all-time high, it’s time for Milwaukee to create a similar program.
• Water filling stations in schools: Water is a basic human need, and access to safe, clean water in schools must be a priority. As we think about how to safely send kids back to school, we should consider investing in sensor-activated bottle filling stations. These units help prevent transfer of germs, while filtering lead and other harmful substances out of the water.
We completely understand the difficult situation our elected leaders are in – revenues are down, and the need is greater than ever. We also understand budgets are about priorities, and we have the opportunity to invest in programs that not only will address today’s immediate concerns but will also break down barriers and truly move us towards a more equitable Milwaukee.