Group pushes for community-led decision making with COVID-19 relief spending

Downtown Eau Claire
Downtown Eau Claire(weau)
Updated: Jun. 11, 2021 at 5:24 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - More than thirty million dollars is soon to be available in COVID-19 relief to the city and county of Eau Claire.

“This is public dollars so the public should have a say in how it’s spent,” said Eau Claire City Council member, Emily Berge.

Since the beginning, Berge has said the community should be involved in deciding where the American Rescue Plan funds would go.

“As the plan dictates, from President Biden on the federal level, the money needs to go toward people affected by COVID and that is our BIPOC communities and people with low income or experiencing homelessness,” Berge said.

“We know black and brown people have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19,” said Pa Thao, Executive Director of the Black and Brown Womyn Power Coalition.

Thao has worked with a team to create nine demands for local government as they make these decisions.

“Ultimately I want our community to feel empowered not only the BIPOC community but the community at large. These are public dollars coming into a community to ensure we can successfully recover from COVID-19 now and in the future,” said Thao.

The list includes:

1. Establishment of a clear community-led process before funds are allocated and spent.

2. Creation of a participatory budget trust of 20% of the allocated funds. This money should be distributed amongst all districts, with more funding and priority to marginalized, directly impacted districts. This will allow residents from each district to have decision-making power on how this money should be spent. Through this participatory process, residents, along with their appropriate City Council/County Board Representative would propose how funds should be invested. This would ensure communities have real decision-making power on what their neighborhoods need. Some ideas for neighborhoods to consider include forgivable loans to assist low-income homeowners in making health and safety related repairs to their homes, replace and build new neighborhood playgrounds, and install public Wi-Fi at neighborhood parks to expand access to the internet.

3. The Eau Claire City Police Department and County Sheriff to receive no additional funds. The ECPD already accounts for $19 million of the City of Eau Claire’s annual budget with the Sheriff department’s budget at $13.3 million this year from the County of Eau Claire.

4. Provide housing assistance which includes rent, mortgage, utilities deferment or cancellation, long-term eviction moratoriums, and direct funds to invest in community-led development housing initiatives, and community land-trusts for small BIPOC farmers and producers.

5. Direct funds to support youth-led organizations that support and center BIPOC youth with access to mentorship, jobs, internships, positive youth development programs, and more.

6. Direct funds to support BIPOC and LGBTQ+ artists and art groups as well as recreation spaces in the community.

7. Direct funds to support BIPOC and LGBTI+ organizations providing critical and essential social services to communities in Eau Claire. Direct funding to support community-based Mutual Aid groups.

8. Direct funds to support the preventative care, health and wellbeing of our community that creates real access to medical, mental health response teams, preventative, and other health services such as culturally specific domestic violence and sexual assault advocacy.

9. Direct funds to support small BIPOC businesses recovering from loss of income and provide forgivable loans to new BIPOC led small businesses initiatives.

David Carlson is one of more than 70 names signed onto the list. He says he strongly supports all nine points.

“If these demands are acknowledged and listened to, this money would pour back into the community. It would empower groups and portions in the community who historically have not had a voice and haven’t had agency and it will actually make everybody do better,” Carlson said.

Those involved say these are demands, not recommendations because language matters when advocating for change.

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