In 14-4 vote, County Board moves to adopt S.E.E.D. program to eradicate food deserts, overriding veto

MILWAUKEE COUNTY -- Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic on Thursday, June 25th announced Milwaukee County’s adoption of the S.E.E.D. program.  S.E.E.D. stands for Sowing, Empowering, and Eliminating Deserts of Food.  By a vote of 14-4, County Supervisors moved to override Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele's veto and “did the right thing in a real effort to address acute health care disparities through the eradication of food deserts in Milwaukee County,” said Chairwoman Dimitrijevic.

Chairwoman Dimitrijevic, along with Supervisors Jason Haas and Khalif Rainey, unveiled the S.E.E.D. Program on Earth Day.

“It's up to the County Executive to explain how the county has adequate resources to fund an $80 million commitment for a sports and entertainment complex, but not to fund a one-time expenditure of $200,000 to combat food insecurity and improve health outcomes for residents of Milwaukee County's poorest neighborhoods,” Dimitrijevic said.  “Although the County Executive may not view food insecurity as an emergency worthy of county intervention, I tend to believe that the thousands of families across the county who struggle to put food on the table each day might disagree.”

Through the S.E.E.D. program, Milwaukee County will partner with the Hunger Task Force, Growing Power and UW-Extension.

The Hunger Task Force will operate a Mobile Market within the county to serve residents who live in food deserts, coordinating with the existing Stockbox delivery program to our seniors.  This Mobile Market will provide opportunities for residents to purchase nutritious food in neighborhoods while accepting food benefits.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as “urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food. Instead of supermarkets and grocery stores, these communities may have no food access or are served only by fast food restaurants and convenience stores that offer few healthy, affordable food options.”

“Milwaukee County faces acute challenges, including inter-related health disparities,” Dimitrijevic said.  “In the long run, infant mortality, obesity and high blood pressure are more costly to the community than an upfront, one-time investment in these partnerships with local organizations to create healthier options for our residents.”

Under the S.E.E.D. program, the county also will establish a long-term partnership with Growing Power to establish Urban Orchards.  Growing Power and the county will pursue a minimum of 10 acres of county land on which to plant 4,000 fruit trees.

In issuing his veto of the measure that authorizes Milwaukee County to develop a comprehensive, multi-targeted plan to address the issue of food deserts and food insecurity within Milwaukee County neighborhoods and authorizing an appropriation transfer to reallocate up to $200,000 -- Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele issued this statement -- explaining why he moved to veto the measure:

"The County Board and I share a common goal of reducing health disparities in Milwaukee County
and I would like to thank the authors of this resolution for their ideas, good intentions, and desire to
make Milwaukee County a better place to live.

For four years I have been restoring programs that address poverty and related issues in Milwaukee
County. I’ve kept bus fares flat and increased transit service, I’ve added millions of dollars to
mental health care services, and I’ve strengthened safety-net programs across the County. Many
Supervisors supported those efforts and I am proud that we did those things together without raising
taxes while insulating and strengthening our core services from budget pressures.

No one disagrees that the Hunger Task Force and Growing Power are great organizations that do
important work. At the same time, earmarked funds come at a cost to the County’s ability to deliver
the services we are legally mandated to provide and undercut our progress towards sustainability. I
have consistently vetoed efforts to allocate funds for special purposes, and am doing so again here.
Given the long-term fiscal imbalance that the County still faces, the introduction of new programs is
something that has to be analyzed and carefully considered before tax dollars are committed. This is
doubly so when contingency funds, which are meant to be saved for emergencies, are used.

Milwaukee County may have a role to play in directly addressing food deserts and food insecurity
that is both meaningful and fiscally sustainable. However, the resolution as written relies on onetime
funds and will require subsequent budgetary action to fund operations in 2016.

I ask Supervisors to sustain this veto and allow my Administration to investigate this concept
further before committing taxpayer dollars. Together, let’s commit to furthering the cause of food
security in a way that is responsible and sustainable."

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Hunger Task Force.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Growing Power.