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‘It’s a Wisconsin issue:’ Some Dems say they weren’t notified of GOP unveiling of homelessness package

MADISON — Assembly Republicans on Thursday, Feb. 21 unveiled a package of legislation to combat homelessness -- and some Democratic lawmakers were critical.

Senator Lena Taylor

The lawmakers announced the legislation during news conferences in Madison and Milwaukee on Thursday. In Milwaukee, the news conference was held at Pathfinders.

"I wasn't notified. I found out from the media that there was a press conference here in my district," said Senator Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee. "When I come to your district, I'm certain that you'd want to know, and that's called professional courtesy and we normally give that to each other. I'm not getting that today."

King Rick, Original Black Panthers

Other Milwaukee leaders also expressed frustration that Democrats weren't made aware of the event.

"How dare you come out into our community and tell me about our legislatures. That is an insult to us," said King Rick, Original Black Panthers of Milwaukee.

"I hate that this whole thing has been made partisan. I mean, your speech makes it seem only Republicans have worked on this issue," said Senator Taylor.

The $3.7 million package contains eight bills. The measures would add $500,000 to a prevention program, create a new $300,000 program to direct the homeless into stable housing, add $500,000 to bolster grants for shelters and add $900,000 annually to a housing assistance program.

The bills would devote an additional $500,000 toward helping shelter families find work, create $300,000 in new grants to find permanent housing for homeless people, create a $500,000 loan program for renovating apartments into affordable housing, direct the state officials to create programs for homeless youth and add $250,000 to a skills enhancement program to help the poor get job training.

"These bills would allow Milwaukee and other communities around the state to provide additional services," said Raphael Acevedo, manager of Milwaukee Continuum of Care.

Senator Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee released the following statement regarding GOP proposals aimed at addressing homelessness:

"I guess we are in a kinder, gentler time.  The problem is that my Republican colleagues have been able to walk out of the doors of the Capitol and step over sleeping homeless residents for years.  They stood silently by while the Walker administration ran homeless residents out of the Capitol basement, where they could escape the cold or extreme heat, at least during the business hours of the building.  They were complicit in many of the policy decisions that have made it harder for Wisconsin residents to break the cycle of poverty. They have vigorously fought measures to add additional funding and initiatives that were brought up by me and my colleagues in finance motions and legislation offered over the years.

"I am glad this is on their radar.  However, I hope that real dollars, and not cosmetic funding proposals, will be what is proposed.  We lag behind so many other states in the funding, programming and necessary legislative commitment to change homelessness in this state.  I look forward to finding common ground and action on these issues."

Rep. David Bowen, D-Milwaukee released this statement:

"I am terribly disappointed in my Republican colleagues’ decision to hold their Milwaukee press conference on homelessness without speaking to or even inviting members of the Milwaukee Delegation or Black Caucus whose communities are deeply affected by this issue. Once again, Republicans have chosen to act unilaterally on a critical issue that should not be partisan rather than work with Democrats to truly solve the problems affecting the citizens of Wisconsin and Milwaukee. Homelessness is not a Republican or Democratic issue–it is a Wisconsin issue that needs to be effectively addressed by stakeholders on both sides of the aisle."

Rep. Jessie Rodriguez, R-Oak Creek explained the proposals came from the Interagency Council on Homelessness.

"These are not proposals that we came up individually but these were plans and ideas that came from the council," said Rep. Rodriguez.

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