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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Dane County budget aims to close racial disparity gap, aid the homeless

Dane County officials focused the 2013-’14 budget on assisting the homeless and decreasing the county’s above-average racial disparities, according to District 5 Supervisor Leland Pan.

The Dane County Board approved the $560 million spending plan Monday, which allocates $150,000 to build a permanent day resource center for the homeless. Although the Board hoped the resource center would be up and running at the onset of winter, Pan said the county has yet to purchase a property, so the budget also adds $25,000 to the city’s efforts to aid the homeless during the colder months.

Those initiatives include providing bathrooms, showers and storage facilities for those without other accommodations.

Pan, also a University of Wisconsin-Madison junior, said many of the budget discussions were restricted by the state tax levy Gov. Scott Walker lowered three years ago.

“It really limits our ability to push forth new programs because it means if we were to try to fund something new or increase the funds for something, chances are we’d have to take away funds from something else,” Pan said.

The budget also designates $20,000 for Planned Parenthood to invest at its discretion, which will help offset funding cuts to the organization at the state level, according to Pan.

“A lot of the services are just to general operations in order to make up for federal or state cuts,” he added.

The budget also attempts to lessen the racial disparities Dane County experiences, which were outlined in a report the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families published in October.

The WCCF’s Race to Equity report showed African Americans in Dane County faced a seven percent higher unemployment rate than the national average for African Americans in 2011. It also showed 75 percent of African American children living in Dane County fell below the poverty line in 2011 compared to 39 percent across the nation.

To address these “critical” disparities, Pan said the county created a full-time Equity Coordinator position on staff and a Youth Conservation Corps, which will put youth and adolescents to work improving public parks to develop job skills and provide a “hopefully meaningful experience for disadvantaged youth.”

Regarding these initiatives, Pan said “I wouldn’t say they’re adequate, but I’d say they’re a start.”

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