Medical Debt Funding Could Be Shifted to Housing, Violence Prevention
County officials have plan for funding earmarked for scuttled medical debt relief project.
One government project recently fell apart, but two others will be boosted because of it.
Funds that were set aside nearly a year ago for medical debt relief in Milwaukee County will likely be shifted to programs for housing and youth justice intervention.
Earlier this year, Sup. Shawn Rolland pushed a project to leverage approximately $1.6 million in county funds to eliminate $156 million in medical debt for county residents. That project is not moving forward, as county officials could not secure cooperation from the four major area health systems.
The funding for the project came from the county’s allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The federal pandemic stimulus bill requires local governments to encumber the funds by 2024 and spend them by 2026. With the medical debt project scuttled, officials are moving fast to reallocate the funding.
A new proposal would keep the funds within the realm of human services. Specifically, the Department of Health and Human Services — which worked on the medical debt project — is seeking to shift the funding to a housing subsidy program and to the county’s Credible Messengers program, a youth justice intervention program intended to keep youth from getting caught in the criminal justice system, according to a report from the department.
The Flexible Housing Subsidy Pool is an approach to emergency housing that the county implemented in 2021. The county’s Housing Division takes out a master lease on rental properties to quickly move families and individuals into housing. If the county board approves the funds transfer, the program would receive approximately $600,000, extending it to 2026 and providing emergency housing for an estimated 55 households, according to DHHS.
The county’s Credible Messengers program has been around for several years now. It connects youth at risk of coming into contact with the justice system, or of re-entering the justice system, with mentors that have life experiences similar to their own. Credible Messengers is considered both a youth intervention and a violence prevention program. Under the proposal, it would receive approximately $1 million.
The funding would be used to build out a new approach to violence prevention based on a model called Advance Peace. The model has had success in other cities, decreasing gun violence where it is implemented by 20% to 80%, according to DHHS.
The funding is the “only way to implement the model with fidelity, meaning with the staffing plan and service intensity recommended by the Advance Peace founders as what is needed to replicate their prior life-saving results,” according to the department.
The funding would support the program through September 2026, DHHS estimates.
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