Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley and Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson are taking new steps to fund the county’s response to COVID-19. In a joint statement, the two officials call on Gov. Tony Evers to return over $100 million, originally intended for Milwaukee County’s COVID-19 relief, which was re-routed to the state.
Under the federal CARES Act, $165 million in COVID-19 relief was supposed to go directly to Milwaukee County. Instead, $103 million was re-routed to the state because of technicalities, according to a Milwaukee County press release. These funds added to the state’s $2 billion in COVID relief. That money is just 5% of the state’s overall COVID wallet, but could significantly support Milwaukee County’s ability to respond to the virus.
“Wisconsin residents in Milwaukee County, particularly residents of color, are being hit hardest by this crisis,” read the statement. “Now, more than ever, they need the critical services that the County provides on behalf of the state—services that cost more money than the County has.” Over 13,000 Wisconsinites have tested positive for COVID-19, with 481 deaths recorded to date. Milwaukee County accounts for 5,373 of the confirmed cases, and 265 of the deaths.
According to a county COVID web page, African Americans represent the majority of the cases and deaths in Milwaukee County. The city of Milwaukee’s predominately African American North Side became one of the state’s first major epicenters for COVID-19. In the South Side of the city, Milwaukee’s Hispanic residents represent the second most affected demographic. These disparities largely stem from segregation in Milwaukee and the rest of the state. However, anyone who lives in poverty in Wisconsin is likely to fit the criteria for severe vulnerability to COVID-19.
“Without adequate and direct funding,” Crowley and Nicholson’s statement continued, “Milwaukee County will not be able to meet the increasing needs of our residents resulting from COVID-19. And our ability to provide critical services to our community’s most vulnerable residents — including mental health care, housing resources, disabilities services and services for our senior citizens — will be significantly impacted.”
Milwaukee has been underserved and underfunded for quite some time. The city is both the state’s economic engine and the target of policies enacted by the Legislature that cut state aid and increased policing and incarceration. The same antagonistic pattern is emerging yet again during the global pandemic.
Calls from rural and suburban Wisconsin, amplified by Republican leadership, to reopen businesses shut down under Evers’ Safer at Home order curiously left out Milwaukee. In fact, some supporters for a re-opening of Wisconsin supported a “regional” approach, allowing certain lower-density areas to open first. Today, while parts of rural and suburban Wisconsin are open for business, Milwaukee remains shut down under county orders. Its residents are still contending with both the virus and the economic and social consequences of social distancing.
“Governor Evers,” the statement reads, “we ask that you continue to support our critical partnership and ensure that Milwaukee County residents — those who continue to suffer the most during this pandemic — do not have to suffer from the lack of services that will result if the County is not adequately funded.”