Gov. Thompson wants single moms to clean up toxic land,

Jenny (jennyo@intergate.bc.ca)
Tue, 23 Mar 1999 22:31:35 -0800 (PST)


This article is from today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and can be found
at http://www.jsonline.com/news/0322brown.asp. - Dirk

Thompson wants poor to clean up toxic land, Firms would get incentives
By Steven Walters of the Journal Sentinel staff

March 22, 1999

Madison -- Gov. Tommy G. Thompson wants to give businesses, non-profit
groups and government agencies $10 million over the next two years to hire
low-income residents to clean up environmentally contaminated properties
known as brownfields.

"It would help people get off of welfare . . . get some good-paying jobs and
get them trained," Thompson said of his proposed expansion of existing
subsidies for businesses and government agencies that clean up sites too
polluted to develop.

Although the plan has been angrily denounced by political and community
representatives from Milwaukee, the director of the non-profit Milwaukee
Community Service Corps said it could help train W-2 participants for
environmental cleanup jobs that pay $14 per hour.

State Sen. Gary George (D-Milwaukee) criticized the proposal. He said no one
"wants this to look like the Tuskegee experiment," in which U.S. officials
withheld treatment for 399 African-American men between 1932 and 1972 to
study how syphilis spread and how it killed.

George also said Thompson consulted with no Milwaukee-area officials in
developing the proposal, but instead worked it out in "secret."

It is another example of how Thompson, in his fourth term, is "becoming less
and less effective," George added.

Lakesha Gibson, a member of the advocacy group Welfare Warriors, said
Thompson's plan would "exploit mothers in poverty" by providing
"irresponsible companies who dumped toxic waste free money from the
government and slaves to clean up their mess."

Responding, Thompson called Gibson's comments "absolutely wrong, as usual,"
and said the Welfare Warriors group is "opposed to everything I do" on
welfare reform.

State officials said Thompson proposed the new subsidies to get businesses
to hire low-income residents who would learn career skills while recycling
polluted, abandoned land so it can be developed and returned to the tax
rolls.

"It's meant to encourage businesses to locate in central cities and to hire
W-2 participants," said state Budget Director Rick Chandler.

Brownfields, usually found in older, urban neighborhoods, are polluted by
solvents, fuel oil and other toxic substances.

Under Thompson's plan, no one would be forced to work cleaning up hazardous
waste sites to continue receiving benefits such as child care, health
insurance and job training, officials said.

"There's no requirement that W-2 recipients must take these jobs," Chandler
added.

Welfare Warriors "clearly don't understand the program," said Thompson aide
Kevin Keane. "They should be supporting the program because it will bring
good-paying jobs to their community. That's the goal we're trying to
achieve."

Thompson wants to double the current $10 million statewide brownfields
cleanup program, but give the additional $10 million only to businesses,
non-profit groups or governments that hire low-income residents. The source
of the additional money -- from federal welfare-reform funds -- also is
controversial.

"I'd like to see another funding source," said state Sen. Brian Burke
(D-Milwaukee), co-chairman of the Legislature's budget committee. "But land
recycling is inherently valuable; it ought to be able to stand alone."

According to a summary of Thompson's plan by the Legislature's budget
office, the state Commerce Department grants would work this way:

Businesses, non-profit organizations or governments could get individual
grants of up to $1.25 million, if they provide matching funds that vary
according to the size of the state grant.

Four million dollars must be awarded in grants of between $750,000 and $1.25
million; $3 million in grants of between $300,000 and $700,000; and $3
million in grants of up to $300,000.

To qualify for the grant, most workers hired must be "parents of minor
children . . . whose family income does not exceed 200% of the poverty"
index -- or a wage of about $10.63 for a single parent with one child,
according to the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

But requiring that parents with small children be hired is more confirmation
that Thompson "has declared war on women and children," Gibson said. "Now,
he wants the women to risk their health and possibly their lives at
brownfields."

There would no requirement on what companies receiving the grants would have
to pay the cleanup workers.

Tony Perez, of the non-profit Milwaukee Community Service Corps, said he
welcomed the governor's proposal because there are Milwaukee-area jobs
available for individuals who have completed environmental cleanup training
and can legally be hired as "field environmental technicians."

Perez said anyone who has completed high school or has an equivalent degree
can be trained fairly quickly and earn $14 per hour.

"You don't need to be a rocket scientist to get these jobs," he added. "But
obviously, none of that can happen unless proper training can take place."

Perez, whose group has trained individuals in how to remove lead paint and
rehab homes, said he looks forward to discussing how the governor's proposal
would work.

Steve Jacquart, policy director for Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, said
Norquist was afraid that adding more requirements to the brownfields cleanup
program would mean it would take longer for hazardous, polluted sites to be
cleaned up.

"Sometimes, the bureaucracy can make it difficult," Jacquart said.

Ann Arnesen, director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families,
said W-2 participants will not have to take the environmental cleanup jobs,
but may feel they have to do so because of how the work-based alternative to
welfare is set up.


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