Graham Kilmer

Hunger Task Force Blasts State For Leaving Coggs Building

Files civil rights complaint. State says residents seeking benefits can still get service.

By - Nov 1st, 2022 08:52 am
Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center, 1220 W. Vliet St. Photo taken May 19th, 2021 by Jeramey Jannene.

Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center, 1220 W. Vliet St. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The state will no longer offer services from the Marcia P. Coggs Human Service Center, at 1220 W. Vliet St., beginning this week, triggering a civil rights complaint filed by Hunger Task Force, the local non-profit and foodbank.

The building has long been the clearinghouse for Milwaukee Enrollment Services, referred to as MilES, which helped Milwaukee residents access state benefit programs like Badger Care and Foodshare, among many others. The state has been on a month-to-month lease for years in the building owned by Milwaukee County. Now it’s moving the office out of the central city to the city’s far Northwest side. On Nov. 1, the office will move into a former warehouse space at 6055 N. 64th St.

Hunger Task Force, which advocates for people living in poverty that rely on these services, says this is the latest in a long list of moves made by the state Department of Health Services (DHS) in Milwaukee that greatly disadvantage the city’s poor and people of color.

The group released a statement Monday explaining that the organization had filed a federal Civil Rights Complaint against the state Department of Health Services. “The state has and continues to actively discriminate against Milwaukee County residents that are people of color, precariously housed, limited English proficient and elderly, blind and disabled,” the nonprofit charged. “These Milwaukee County residents are equal citizens, and disparate treatment and limiting access to federal entitlements will not be tolerated by the people of Milwaukee county.”

The organization’s civil rights complaint largely revolves around the shuttering of the state office at the Coggs building during the pandemic. “Hunger Task Force filed a Civil Rights Complaint alleging racism and discrimination as well as disparate treatment to the citizens of Milwaukee in August 2021 when the State Office Building was the only office that remained shuttered post mask mandate. During that time, over 200,000 households were without power and were denied in-person help to obtain emergency food benefits.”

The task force said the MilES office closed its doors without notice to the many families and individuals that rely on the office for services.

“The intentionally disparate treatment of Milwaukee demonstrated by the careless actions of state employees who deny and delay help as a matter of business practice is not just careless, but discriminatory,” said Sherrie Tussler, Executive Director, Hunger Task Force.

In late July, Urban Milwaukee asked DHS when it planned to move out of the Coggs building. On Aug. 8, the state agency said, “no firm date has been set for the move.” On Oct. 27, the agency issued a press release announcing its plans to leave the Coggs building by Nov. 1.

“This is a big move, and our team at MilES is dedicated to helping members navigate this transition and get the help they need with their benefits, whether through a visit to the new 64th Street or the existing UMOS location, by calling our call center, or by using our website or smartphone app,” said DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake.

The new office can be accessed along the MCTS Blue Line, which runs down N. 64th St. past the new office. Tonya C. Evans, MilES director, said in a statement that, “Some staff will remain at the Coggs Center to provide options to customers during this transition period while we continue to work with our members and partners and relocate to the new facility.”

There is a second walk-in facility for MilES services at the United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS) building at 2701 S. Chase Ave. In its release, DHS said county residents can access the services they need at both locations.

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