By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
This is an unprecedented chapter in Milwaukee’s history, Mayor Tom Barrett said during a presentation earlier this week. It is a moment that everyone will remember for the rest of their lives, he said.
Barrett is of course referring to the coronavirus pandemic, which has wreaked economic havoc across the globe. In response, President Joe Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package.
The City of Milwaukee is set to receive $394 million in direct relief and the State of Wisconsin will receive $2.5 billion in direct relief. Milwaukee County, Milwaukee Public Schools and other government groups will also receive direct relief.
On Wednesday, May 12, Barrett held a presentation on potential investments the City of Milwaukee could make with its American Rescue Plan or ARP funding. This is the first meeting of many, and residents will have opportunities to voice their opinion in the weeks to come.
During the presentation, Barrett noted that cities are often ignored when it comes to allocation of federal funds in favor of letting the state government decide where it should go, but in this instance the City of Milwaukee will receive direct relief.
“We’re going to leverage this to maintain our momentum,” Barrett said.
He hopes to have a plan for the funds ready for the Common Council in July. The money must be spent by 2024. Barrett noted that partnerships with the county, state and other entities could increase the flow of funding into the community.
He stressed that the numbers shown during the presentation are potential, and the final numbers could be different.
Currently, Barrett’s priorities for the ARP funding include affordable and sustainable housing, broadband connection, early childhood education, small business growth and economic development, lead abatement, pandemic recovery and resilience and more.
The U.S. Treasury released an outline detailing what funding can go toward on Monday, May 10. According to the mayor’s presentation, this can be used to cover COVID-19 public health expenses, revenue losses for the government due to COVID-19 and broad support for households impacted by COVID-19.
In Milwaukee, for example, one of its largest revenues is parking. When the pandemic began, the city made the decision to cancel parking meters and fees. While Barrett stands by this decision, he noted that in 2020, the city lost about $19 million from meter parking and structure parking and about $25 million in permit and license fees.
In short, the city could use ARP to make up for the loss of revenue.
Barrett’s plan to increase broadband access would cost potentially cost $42 million. This would establish fast and free wireless throughout the city.
“It is a very serious priority to really have city-wide broadband access,” he said.
His administration is in talks with the county executive, superintendents and others to look at the possibility of partnering together to increase access.
Another proposal is to use ARP funding to create career pathways for Milwaukee residents. The potential investment is $25 million.
Chytania Brown, the CEO and president of Employ Milwaukee, said that funding could go toward training or stipends. If people lost their job, then they need money now while they complete their training, she said.
The funding could also go toward providing employment opportunities for youth.
Barrett’s presentation outlined that workers will be needed to help with lead abatement, public work projects, home renovation and construction and more.
Steven Mahan, the director of Community Development Grants Administration for the City of Milwaukee, noted that the lead abatement procedure can be two-fold: it addresses the poison, and it creates a workforce.
Increasing the money to spend on lead, means increasing the number of contractors and giving people consistent work. And since the need for lead abatement is so great, not only is this a priority, but it is also an opportunity, Mahan said.
“We want to create jobs for the people,” Barrett said.
Additional funding will go toward violence prevention, ($8.5 million for two years), affordable and sustainable housing ($90 million), neighborhood safety ($40 million) and so on. Barrett said the funding will be used to address racial inequalities, with an emphasis on marginalized communities.
“This is opening night,” he said. “There’s going to be more opportunities for us to talk about this. It’s an exciting time and it’s a challenging time [but] let’s keep working together.”
To learn more about the American Rescue Plan visit city.milwaukee.gov/ARPA.