By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
The digital divide has long existed in this country. While rural Americans were once thought to be the ones left behind, last year’s pandemic showed that urban families were also part of the divide.
Stacy Clark, the vice for the Wisconsin Democratic Party Black Caucus, said that Black families are 9% less likely to have high-speed internet when compared to their white counterparts, and Latino families are 15% less likely.
Those numbers could change given that the House passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill also known as the Build Back Better plan last Saturday, Nov. 6. The plan will invest more than $1 trillion in roads, broadband, clean water and more.
Democratic Wisconsin leaders gathered at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, 433 W. St. Paul Ave., on Wednesday, Nov. 10, to express their thoughts and discuss the potential impact this bill will have on Milwaukee. In addition to Clark, Sen. Chris Larson, State Rep. Kalan Haywood II, Stephanie Bloomingdale and Milwaukee County Supervisor Felesia Martin were in attendance.
“This is something that brings deliverables straight to Milwaukee,” Martin, the vice chair of the WisDems and a Milwaukee County supervisor, said. “And for every voter out there who doubted that the Democratic contingency could not do it – we’re here to say today, they said they could do it and they did.”
Milwaukee will be able to tackle its roads and bridges as well as the lead laterals, because of this bill, Martin said. She also thanked Gov. Tony Evers for his role in ensuring that Wisconsin has what it needs to strengthen its infrastructure.
Clark noted that this is only the beginning. There’s still work to be done, he said.
“This bipartisan infrastructure bill is lifechanging for Wisconsin residents, especially residents in Milwaukee County,” Clark said. “And it’s so groundbreaking because it is ground rooted in equity.”
He explained that the bill will allow Wisconsin to take critical steps in advancing racial equity and justice. One investment is broadband focused and making sure that every American has access to reliable internet. This will help bridge the digital divide, Clark said.
In Wisconsin, Evers’ Administration has already expanded broadband access to 300,000 homes and businesses, Clark said, adding that Evers declared 2021 the year of broadband access.
“Closing these gaps will address these systemic barriers that we have seen for generations,” Clark said.
According to the White House, Wisconsin would receive a minimum of $100 million to provide broadband coverage to the roughly 318,000 residents still lacking internet access.
Furthermore, the Affordability Connectivity Benefit will help low-income families afford the cost.
Clark added that another benefit is that the bill is fully paid for as it will increase taxes for the rich but leave middle class residents who make less than $400,000 alone.
Bloomingdale is the president of Wisconsin AFL-CIO. This is the biggest infrastructure investment in America’s history, she said, adding that the last infrastructure investment of this size was passed by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“We have lived for far too long with crumbling bridges, with roads we can’t drive on, we can’t get to work on time, with water that is not clean and that is filled with lead laterals, with broadband that doesn’t work and a transportation system that leaves us behind on the world stage,” she said. “This infrastructure bill will help us to regain our competitiveness in the world.”
According to the White House, Wisconsin could expect to receive $5.2 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs and $225 million for bridge replace and repairs.
Bloomingdale praised the work of Democratic Wisconsin Leaders including Congresswoman Gwen Moore and Sen. Tammy Baldwin. She likewise criticized Sen. Ron Johnson for turning his back on the people of Wisconsin.
“In order for our country and the State of Wisconsin to truly build back better, investing in public infrastructure is one of those steps,” Haywood said. “It’s an absolute must.”
He said that constituents often ask him how this bill will impact them. He tells them how this bill includes investments in family safety and aims to tackle issues such as reckless driving. The infrastructure bill will reconnect communities, he said. This includes rebuilding roads and connecting people to the internet.
He noted that the Republicans who voted no, signaled they do not want to do the necessary steps to build back better or to help Wisconsinites thrive in the 21st century.
Like the speakers before him, Larson praised Democratic officials for their leadership, especially President Joe Biden, who kept his promise to work across the aisle.
“For far too long, Wisconsin Republicans in Congress have gotten away with complacency in the name of partisanship,” Larson said. “This deal will move us from complacent to competitive. This deal is just another example of Democrats delivering.”
Milwaukee will finally be able to rid itself of lead pipes, Larson said, adding that the federal government will send $841 million over the next five years to Wisconsin to improve its water infrastructure.
Clean water is a right for all communities, he said. The bill will also allocate funds for the state’s transit system.
“The bipartisan infrastructure deal will help our state reach its full potential,” Larson said. “Because of bipartisan leadership, communities across the country will be healthier, better connected and poised to help us continue leading on the world stage.”