By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
In 2019, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley announced his vision to make Milwaukee County the healthiest county in Wisconsin. This vision includes addressing Milwaukee’s disparities in health care, food security and more. But to achieve this goal, funding is required, and it could come in the form of federal support.
County leaders across the country held a virtual press conference urging congress to pass President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Plan and Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill on Wednesday, Oct. 27. The speakers each addressed how these bills could help counties across the nation address climate change, health care, transit infrastructure and more.
County leaders featured on the call included Crowley, King County Executive Dow Constantine (Washington), Franklin County Commissioner John O’Grady (Ohio), Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris (Tennessee), Hennepin County Board Chair Marion Greene (Minnesota) and Montgomery County Councilmember Craig Rice (Maryland).
“When you think about the president’s Build Back Better agenda, this is a massive piece of federal support that will help create jobs, cut taxes, lower costs for working families and help Milwaukee County move forward in our vision of achieving racial equity and becoming the healthiest county in the state of Wisconsin,” Crowley said during the press conference.
The Build Back Better Plan invests in community cornerstones, local economies, the workforce and resources, he said. In addition, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill is critical to rebuilding roads and bridges and modernizing transit such as buses and airports, Crowley said.
Harris explained the importance of the infrastructure bill to Shelby County, which is one of the biggest trucking corridors in the nation and home to Federal Express and the Port of Memphis.
“When we get more opportunity to transport more product more efficiently it matters,” Harris said. “We had our bridge across the Mississippi shut down for a pretty prolonged period here recently and that sent reverberations throughout the entire country, at least throughout the trucking corridor.”
He continued, “There are a lot of great things that could happen if the Biden plan is approved.”
Harris said Shelby County is also anticipating the portion of the plan which addresses the removal of lead pipes. Shelby County is home to the Memphis Sand Aquifer, which produces 20 million gallons of drinking water a day.
“It’s some of the best water in the world,” he said. “But it doesn’t matter if that last leg gets corroded and it gets poisoned by lead. The Joe Biden plan will help remediate that problem and help protect all of us.”
Harris noted he is also looking forward to expanding the transit lines and methods in Shelby County in order to increase access to jobs for county residents.
Greene said Hennepin County is focusing on climate change, transportation and racial disparities. The county’s climate change plan includes shifting its car fleet to electric cars and leading on solid waste reform. As far as transit, the county’s two new light rails are set to become the state’s largest infrastructure projects, Greene said.
“We’re so grateful for that federal partnership and it’s obviously fundamental to getting this work done,” she said. “These are generational investments in jobs, in creating regions where people are able to move around, where they live, work and play in ways that work for their lives and work for the environment.”
Like Milwaukee County, Hennepin County had declared racism a public health issue. Part of the county’s response was to be more consciences of its investment in the community.
“The pandemic made that work even more mission critical,” she said. “We felt it was important work before the pandemic, but my goodness, the pandemic has really accentuated that that work needs to be front and center at all times.”
She continued, “When the president talks about building back better, here in Hennepin County that means building back communities in a commitment to race equity.”
In Montgomery County, when the pandemic began, elected officials ensured that all school age children would have access to food regardless of their family’s income. Children go to school to learn, Rice said, and they shouldn’t have to worry about their next meal.
He noted that the additional child tax credit is worth it and that when the government invests in families and children it pays off.
“We’re taking care of our next generation, and that next generation is taking care of the future of this world, not just this nation,” Rice said.
He continued, “The Build Back Better Act really takes the best of what we know is important to all of us and highlights and doubles down on that. As local jurisdictions we’ve understood what it is we need to do in supporting our most vulnerable and the most needy in our communities. The Build Back Better Act allows us to double down on those efforts.”
Without this support, which covers basic needs such as food and supports policies that protect the elderly and working force, communities will move backwards, Rice said.
“We want to move forward, and we need your help to do so,” Rice said. “And we’re looking to you, whether its infrastructure or programming to make sure we can do everything we can to continue to highlight the fact the United States of America is the leader when it comes to how we treat our citizens.”