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Milwaukee Leaders Discuss How To Prioritize Federal Relief Money, Many Questions Remain

Jimmy Emerson
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and members of the city's Finance and Personnel Committee discussed their priorities for the federal aid money from the new stimulus package.

Less than a week after President Biden signed his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, Milwaukee officials are puzzling out what the city’s allotment could mean to the community.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett told members of the city's Finance and Personnel Committee Wednesday that beyond the city’s more than $400 million allocation, additional pots of money might be tapped.

“For example, I think there’s $7 billion in this bill for broadband, you know, there’s gonna be dollars for housing authorities, we have to see how we can maximize that,” he said.

Barrett said his top priorities include housing, both new and rehabbed; tackling lead issues and bolstering early education.

Alderwoman Milele Coggs was one of several committee members who pushed the importance of community input.

“I know this the early stages, I recognize that, but in your thinking are you thinking of the ways to engage the community over time as well?” she asked.

The mayor’s response: “Absolutely yes.”

Coggs followed up, suggesting that city leaders evaluate how effectively Milwaukee allocated its CARES funds to better plan for the next influx of dollars.

“Will there be or are there efforts to review how we spent the CARES Act money, specific programming-wise and all that?” Coggs wondered.

Barrett responded, “I would invite you to look at how we spent the CARES Act money very carefully, because I’m proud of how we spent the CARES Act money. I’m not the least bit defensive about it.”

Coggs pressed her point, saying she’s heard from small business owners who were excluded because of set criteria. She asked about efforts to improve the process to get money into the hands of more people.

“I would love to work with you, individually, and others to do that,” Barrett said.

A half hour into the conversation, it was clear much remains to be clarified as Milwaukee prepares to pump restorative dollars into the community.

Alderman José Perez waded into the conversation, asking Barrett his vision is for working with the Common Council.

“I think the council has a different view maybe of what you may consider working together. So I just want you to tell us what that means to you when you talk about working together,” said Perez.

Barrett responded, “I think it probably means different things to different people, and I have obviously, I and my administration have different relationships with different members of the council, and I think it’s the interest of the people have to work together, it’s about working together,”

Barrett said Milwaukee could receive its first installment as early as July. All of the funds must be dispersed by December 31, 2024.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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