Jeramey Jannene

City Could Get Involved In Money-for-New-Moms Program

Dimitrijevic's proposal seeks to extend cash grant program for low-income mothers to three years.

By - Apr 19th, 2024 03:22 pm
Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic in April 2024. Photo by Sophie Bolich.

Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic in April 2024. Photo by Sophie Bolich.

The City of Milwaukee could expand a new philanthropic program that aims to provide 100 low-income mothers with unconditional cash payments during pregnancy and the first two years of their child’s life.

The proposal, led by Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, would extend the cash grant program, known as The Bridge Project, to three years.

The Zilber Family Foundation unveiled the effort earlier this month. It calls for a $1,125 one-time payment to prenatal mothers with $750 per month paid during the first 15 months and $375 per month in the final nine months.

“The Bridge Project in Milwaukee represents a significant step towards increasing economic mobility, addressing childhood poverty, and supporting family stability in our community,” said Zilber Executive Director Gina Stilp in a statement announcing the program. “By providing direct financial support, we’re not only assisting families in need but seeking to interrupt  cycles of generational poverty and reduce racial inequity.”

The cash can be spent on anything, including child care, formula or other basic needs. “Having it be unconditional is so empowering,” said the alderwoman in an interview. “So many other programs to help people in need have such intense requirements.”

Dimitrijevic said the unconditional cash transfer program would help provide stability and improve health outcomes for the city’s most vulnerable residents. Extending the length of the $375 per month award, she said, would increase the odds of a sustained impact.

Applications for the two-year program are already open for low-income mothers in qualifying ZIP codes. Eligible applicants must be at least 18 years old, 23 weeks pregnant or less and live in the 53204, 53205, 53206 or 53215 ZIP codes. Priority is being given to applicants in the Lindsay Heights, Clarke Square and Layton Boulevard West neighborhoods that Zilber has worked to uplift for more than a decade through its Zilber Neighborhood Initiative program. According to Zilber, 44% of children in the target neighborhoods live in poverty.

The city proposal, which is pending before the Common Council, still lacks a key component. “I do not have a funding source yet,” said the alderwoman. Dimitrijevic said she is seeking $450,000. She said the timing is right to look to improve the health of its residents after addressing its own fiscal issues last year.

The Milwaukee program is the second such effort in the country, following the Monarch Foundation’s 2021 launch of the program in New York. The foundation partnered with Zilber to bring the effort to Milwaukee.

The program is a more narrowly tailored version of a universal basic income pilot program first proposed in 2019 by then-Alderwoman Chantia Lewis. The 2019 proposal was initially to include $100,000 in seed money from property tax proceeds, but that was cut in favor of pursuing philanthropic support. Envisioned as a $1 million program, Lewis proposed $400,000 in funding from the city’s $394 million American Rescue Plan Act grant. A committee endorsed the idea, only for the full council to send it back for more review. Later that year Lewis was charged with unrelated campaign finance violations and subsequently removed from office. The proposal has not returned.

In 2020, Mayor Cavalier Johnson, then an alderman, co-sponsored Lewis’s proposal to study the idea further. In 2022, a spokesperson said the mayor remained open to the idea but was focused on the city’s fiscal issues.

After this article was first published, a spokesperson for the mayor said the mayor supports the idea, but not the use of local tax dollars. “The Mayor supports the investment the Zilber Foundation Bridge Project is making in this type of program. He would also support a thoughtful, federally or privately funded program. The Mayor does not support the use of local tax money to finance basic income programs,” said the statement.

The City of Madison piloted a privately-funded guaranteed income program for 155 families in 2022-2023.

Dimitrijevic has championed several policy measures aimed at improving the lives of Milwaukee’s youngest residents. She successfully led the city in directing $7 million from a federal grant to bolster the city’s early childhood educator sector by awarding stipends for workers, expanding an education program at Milwaukee Area Technical College and providing funds for training programs aimed at getting more men of color involved in the field.

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Categories: City Hall

One thought on “City Could Get Involved In Money-for-New-Moms Program”

  1. Wardt01 says:

    “Later that year Lewis was charged with unrelated campaign finance violations and subsequently removed from office”….

    if you’re going to bring up a politician’s criminal activity in an article , why then water it down and describe it like this?

    Ms. Lewis was elected to the governing body of this city. While in office, the state & feds were notified and began an undercover investigation of her financial activities. She was soon charged with half dozen felonies – including embezzlement, fraud, and intentionally filing false campaign reports.

    Her bank & ATM records included in the lengthy PDF document filed by the government showed charges for personal vacations, casinos, etc. aka: having a lot of fun spending taxpayer’s money.

    She initially told the taxpayers of Milwaukee that it was just a paperwork or clerical related error. Which feels like a flat out lie because she then never produced anything to support these clerical errors.

    Ms. Lewis then cut a sweetheart deal and pled guilty to 1 lesser felony of something like “unlawful conduct by a public official … blah blah blah..” which is nothing but a sham that the political class uses to keep themselves from being punished like the lowly citizens they represent .

    Ms. Lewis is a convicted felon who stole from the taxpayers of Milwaukee & worse she stole money from the campaign account funded by donations from Milwaukee residents that she duped into believing she would use her position on the Common Council to improve their lives, not her own.

    …. so in addition to just “being charged with …. violations” , she was convicted, served time in prison, and was ordered to repay the City & the campaign fund she stole the money from.

    I’m of the opinion that if the press is gonna bring up a politician’s crimes committed against the taxpayers of this city while, at least provide readers a little honesty on what they did. …Otherwise, don’t bring it up.

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