Reps. Gannon and Fields Work to Address Urban Wisconsin Issues.

The Wheeler Report sat down with Reps. Gannon and Fields to talk about the Assembly Urban Revitalization committee.

PURPOSE FOR THE COMMITTEE

Gannon said poverty issues are not only in Milwaukee, so he wanted the committee to go to other cities in the state to see what issues were facing other areas. The committee held hearings in six of the larger cities in Wisconsin: Beloit, Milwaukee, Racine, Oshkosh, Wausau and Green Bay.  Gannon said moving the meetings to all areas of the state allowed for hearing from a unique demographic of the state. Fields said the committee was able to visit areas outside Madison and Milwaukee that gave them a snapshot of other communities and other ethnic backgrounds. Both legislators highlighted hearing from African Americans, Hmong, and Latino; saying there wasn’t just one racial makeup.

Gannon explained that in early 2016 the Assembly Republicans met to start forming their agenda for the 2017-18 legislative session. Gannon said one issue that continued to emerge was urban issues: crime, education, homelessness, poverty programs, the expense of Medicaid, job training, and drug abuse. Gannon told Speaker Vos he wanted to chair a committee that looked at the issues and worked on ways to address the issues going forward. Speaker Vos created the Committee on Urban Revitalization. Fields was quick to recognize leaders from both parties saying they were committed to having bipartisan co-chairs for the committee, showing that they understood the need to do something about urban areas. Fields said the focus was not just Milwaukee, but on all urban areas of Wisconsin. Fields felt the fact that the same issues were being brought and discussed in areas outside Milwaukee was an eye-opener for some members of the committee.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM OUTSTATE HEARINGS

Gannon emphasized there were a lot of commonalities in issues raised regardless of what community there were in. Gannon said it was clear that each community addresses their issues in a local manner through local organizations and that the state as a whole didn’t have a blanket program. Gannon said the statewide programs included school programs, WHEDA housing and MA programs. Gannon highlighted the issues they heard that were common among all communities: mental health, housing, welfare cliff effect (AB-241), prison, fathers and child support, police and community relations, crime, job training, and transportation. Fields agreed that the issues raised were the same all over the six communities, saying the top three issues were transportation, affordable housing and mental health.

Mental Health

Gannon highlighted testimony from one community where it can take up to six hours for police to deal with someone who has a mental health issue because they are required to take them to only specific locations for treatment.  Gannon said that’s six hours of officer time that can’t be utilized on the roads and in the local community. Gannon emphasized the labor intensity of local law enforcement to work with mental health challenges. Fields said for some people mental health means services to cope, for others there is a need for institutionalization, and for some it’s need for help with medication. Fields highlighted that mental health issues often interact with police. Fields said oftentimes there is a lack of understanding that people aren’t bad people, they actually have mental health needs.

Housing

Gannon said the biggest issue statewide was there is a lack of affordable housing for working poor.  Gannon said there is fiscal cliff for a lot of families. Gannon stated some people are just above the limit for housing assistance, but not financially stable enough to maintain good affordable housing. Gannon said, “Then we find people giving up and allowing themselves to purposely fall below the income level so they qualify for services.” Fields said. “Are we using and spending money the right way?” Fields said, “I don’t think we understand how many people are affected by housing or lack of housing.  You can have a knowledge of it, but you don’t have a revelation of it until you really see it.” Fields discussed how the lack of housing impacts individuals and families, and prevents kids from going to school.  Both legislators talked about working with WHEDA, not simply to do economic development and housing, but making sure that housing is accessible and affordable to those that need it. Fields talked about the Common Ground program in Minnesota which is a mission based organization that builds affordable housing.

 Prison

Gannon highlighted that prisoners being released on probation and parole are being “dumped” back into communities with services and education and preparedness to work and start a new life. Fields said, “No one is questioning what we are going to when in 4-5 years we release 5,000 – 6,000 incarcerated individuals in the same zip code. If we don’t have a plan, what do we expect these individuals to do?” Fields emphasized the need for private businesses to get involved and marry the need with the availability.  Fields said discussions need to be had on who can do training to help these individuals get the jobs that the private businesses have and need to be filled. Fields talked about the Quad Graphics and Christ the King Church relationship where the church is doing the training, and then Quad Graphics is hiring the individuals. Fields emphasized that soft skills are a huge issue.  Fields said training as basic as setting alarms and helping people understand that they are expected to be at work every day and on time.  Fields discussed the need to train people in those skills and not reject them just because they don’t have those skills at this time. Fields highlighted AB-243, a bill that studies the feasibility of offering mobility grants. 

Fatherhood and Child Support

Gannon said government programs have penalized families being together.  Gannon highlighted that not all fathers should be in the home, but said programs penalize poorer families for being together.  Gannon explained that child support is a big problem.  Gannon said statistics are ‘clear’ that a house with two intact parents are far better for the outcomes on children. Fields also emphasized that child support was an issue that needed to be addressed saying there needs to be a way to help these men get caught up and pay what they owe without continuing to force them further into debt. Fields said, “Are there things we can do to help, not elevate people of their responsibility, but things we can do to not punish this person to a point where they are afraid to get a job because they lose.”

Milwaukee

When Gannon talked about police enforcement, police and community relations, and crime he said Milwaukee seems to be the outlier in these areas.  Gannon talked about police and community relations saying in other major cities in Wisconsin there seems to be strong community and police relations, highlighting ‘cop houses’ run in Racine, yet said the only place they didn’t hear it was positive was in Milwaukee.  Gannon said they only place they heard about violent crime was in Milwaukee. Gannon said, “The excuse that people living in poverty should live in crime drives me nuts. It’s something I’m going to be working on. I’m serious about this, we’re missing the boat here. Regardless of your status in life you shouldn’t have to worry about your child being shot on the way to school.”

Transportation

Gannon calls the transportation issues the “last mile” problem.  Highlighting that many Wisconsin cities have a bus program that stays within the city limits, yet the business parks and companies are located a mile or so outside the city limits.  Gannon said he is looking for options that will help move workers get the “last mile” to work. Gannon wants the solution to be a statewide solution, not just something that only works in some cities. Fields said transportation issues are a larger issue in out-state urban areas than Milwaukee. Fields said transportation solutions is one area that tends to still divide the parties, highlighting differences in views on buses, transit, and rail.

MEDICAID HUB PILOT PROGRAM

Gannon talked about the Ohio model called the Pathways Community HUB model for reform. Gannon said several other states are moving forward with the same plan. Gannon said the program is all encompassing and works in all areas of their lives. Gannon explained that long term the program moves people out of poverty, Gannon said the HUB is incentivized to help families because payment is based on closing out all areas of a persons life, calling it payment for performance instead of payment just for services.  Gannon is asking for an expanded pilot/test in Wisconsin for the remainder of this budget, hoping to move the program forward statewide in the next budget.  Both Fields and Gannon talked about the work Bria Grant was doing with UnitedMKE.