By Mayor Tom Barrett
On March 11 President Joe Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act. Most Americans are familiar with the plan’s third $1,400 stimulus check, extended unemployment benefits and other direct assistance to families.
For cities like Milwaukee this same law provides an unprecedented opportunity. The money available for local initiatives is unlike any previous federal program. It gives us a chance to improve lives, solve problems and profoundly change efforts city government is making to address our challenges.
As we review the legislation and implement a plan, it is important that we listen to, and prioritize, the needs of our community. That means including residents, elected officials, the state and other local governments to maximize the benefits of ARPA assistance in a manner that puts racial equity and inclusion front and center.
The federal government is writing rules on how it will distribute $405 million in ARPA funding to the City of Milwaukee, providing more direction on how we can spend the funds. I have asked Director Sharon Robinson who leads the city’s Department of Administration, to establish a collaborative process to develop a comprehensive plan.
My priorities are clear.
• Increase housing options, economic growth and employment opportunities for city residents.
• Make certain the city’s racial equity and inclusion goals are met and exceeded.
• Improve our public infrastructure.
• And, be sure not to add unsustainable future costs.
Our Office of Equity and Inclusion will play a key role in making certain our ARPA efforts are fair and reach neighborhoods where new investments will have the greatest impact. I intend to use the American Rescue Plan funds on efforts that directly benefit Milwaukee residents. Here are some specific examples.
• Housing: Increasing home ownership and housing affordability is key to helping families build economic stability and resilience. Accelerating my 10,000 Homes Initiative with ARPA funding will increase affordable housing availability by building or improving housing units.
• Eviction Prevention: The work done in recent years on eviction prevention and the partnerships created to support renters during the pandemic are a solid base to build on to keep families in stable housing.
• Lead Abatement: Healthy housing is critical to children’s health and improving health outcomes for Milwaukee families. I want to expand the significant investments of recent years so that we reduce lead risks on all fronts. This includes lead paint and lead service lines.
• Early Education: Expanding access to high quality early childhood education will help Milwaukee families and build a strong foundation for Milwaukee’s economic future.
• Workforce and Small Business Development: It is important to utilize ARPA funding and leverage other workforce funding to connect city residents to jobs. This is a huge opportunity to prepare city residents to thrive in our local economy and grow our support for small businesses in the city.
• Century City: There are approximately 75 acres of land available for new development in the Century City Business Park located in the 30th Street Industrial Corridor. The City has worked with neighborhood residents to identify more than 45 projects that should be considered for ARPA funding to grow business and employment in and around Century City.
• Broadband: There is a critical need to expand broadband access for every Milwaukee resident. Equitable internet access is key to economic and educational success.
• Critical Infrastructure: ARPA provides opportunities to accelerate work on water, sewer, street lights, bridges and other key infrastructure systems.
• Pandemic Recovery and Resilience: Quality of life, business support, and other programs can help Milwaukee emerge from the pandemic and thrive in the future. Milwaukee can also expand our climate change and sustainability programs.
• Streetcar System: Streetcars are a proven catalyst for economic growth. ARPA presents an opportunity to expand the economic impact we have seen along the initial streetcar route to more neighborhoods.
I am confident that American Rescue Plan funds will positively impact the lives of people throughout Milwaukee. To make sure that happens, we are including residents in the planning process. We will coordinate with other agencies; and, we will be accountable in the efforts we undertake.
The opportunity ahead of us is unlike any previous federal program. The American Rescue Plan allows us to re-imagine and invigorate the work we do to improve the lives of Milwaukee residents. With the help of people throughout this city, we will make sure this opportunity delivers the benefits we all hope for.