Strong communities are founded on strong families. That’s why Abele has prioritized the many services and amenities the working families of Milwaukee County rely on our County government to provide.
Reinventing Child Support Services
Chris Abele made reinventing Child Support Services a top priority – he even changed the name of the agency. Five years ago, Milwaukee County had a Child Support Enforcement agency that was focused only on getting checks for custodial parents, and not doing a great job of that.
Today, Child Support Services has improved collections but is also investing in programs that help fathers get the skills and training they need to improve their economic security and play a vital role in their kids’ lives.
Milwaukee County is currently the only child support agency in the U.S. to receive and administer “Pathways to Responsible Fatherhood,” a $2 million annual grant program from the federal government. This grant allows Child Support Services to partner with 10 community-based organizations and has served more than 6,000 fathers in the first three years alone with job training and placement programs, family counseling, and driver’s license recovery.
Because of the quality of programming the Department provides, in October 2015 the federal government announced that Milwaukee County would receive an additional $10 million grant to fully fund even more programming for fathers and families over the next five years.
Improved Public Safety
Although cities, not counties, take a primary responsibility in public safety, Chris Abele ensured that Milwaukee County stepped up its efforts to help the Milwaukee Police Department. He funded a significant part of MPD’s Shotspotter program that focuses on identifying gun crime in and around county parks. The County now, for the first time, offers resources to MPD to train officers on mental health issues and actively serves as a partner in situations of mental health crisis and traumatic events involving children.
Improved and Expanded our Park System
During Chris Abele’s tenure as Milwaukee County Executive, The Parks Department has been recognized consistently at the local, state, and national level for excellence. He invested more into neglected central city parks and formed partnerships with organizations such as Journey House, Crystal Ridge, MillerCoors, UWM’s School of Freshwater, Urban Ecology Center, and others to collaborate and invest in new parks and projects for Milwaukee County residents.
Overhauled the Mental Health System
Immediately after taking office, Chris Abele aggressively improved and reformed the mental health care system in Milwaukee County. He invested millions of dollars into jump starting the long delayed transition to community based care.
As a result of his work, increased funding, and more accountability, improved care and outcomes were achieved for patients at the Behavioral Health Hospital. Milwaukee County achieved a 30% reduction in Psychiatric inpatient admissions since 2010, a 25% reduction in emergency room visits compared to 2010, and a 57% increase in the number of people using the outpatient Access Clinic.
Chris Abele’s bipartisan approach has served Milwaukee County well, and he has been able to bridge the partisan divide to get things done for Milwaukee County residents. Nowhere is that more clear than on the issue of mental health care. When the state Senate took up the issue, every Republican and every Democrat voted unanimously in support of a bill supported by Abele to put a board of medical professionals, not politicians, in charge at the Behavioral Health Division. And after 98 more votes from Democrats and Republicans in the Assembly, Milwaukee County now has assurance that the best system of care comes first at the Behavioral Health Division.
Combatting Chronic Homeless
Homelessness is a major problem affecting Milwaukee County, but Chris Abele has developed a plan to eliminate chronic homelessness. He created the Housing First program to end chronic homeless and provide shelter for those most in need.
The results have been impactful and immediate. The program serves hundreds of Milwaukee County residents and saves taxpayers money. The cost of Housing First per person is less than $35 per day; if that same person ends up in prison, the county is on the hook for $100 per day, with the cost increasing tenfold if the police are called or the person ends up in the emergency room. (Source)
Strengthened the Transit System
Milwaukee County needs a robust transit system that connects residents with jobs and schools all across the county. That is why in three straight budgets, Chris Abele refused to raise bus fares and cut routes, even after decades of route cuts and fare hikes – all without raising taxes. He developed a plan to buy more than 100 new buses with federal funds, and led a coalition of civic and business leaders to successfully lobby for more transit funding from the state.
Turned Around the House of Corrections
Since taking over control from Sheriff Clarke in 2013, the House of Corrections has significantly improved the day-to-day operations and management under the leadership of County Executive Chris Abele. He improved the management of the facility, cut overtime costs, and partnered with community groups to ensure the mission of the House of Corrections is achieved.
Chris does not believe a revolving door at the House of Corrections keeps our communities safe. That is why he expanded job training programs for inmates to reduce recidivism and help inmates get their lives back on track. Milwaukee County now partners with MATC and Franklin Public Schools to expand educational opportunities for inmates. There is more to do to keep our local neighborhoods safe, but youth incarceration rates have already declined.
When the management of House of Correction (HOC) was transitioned from the Sheriff to County Executive Chris Abele in 2013 the HOC did not offer any substantial inmate educational activities, job training and/or programming. Working with County Executive Abele, advocates and experts across the criminal justice system, HOC Superintendent Mike Hafemann and his staff have implemented dozens of programs that give inmates a chance to break the cycle of incarceration and give back to the community. Teaching inmates job skills and offering necessary treatment saves money in the long run and improves public safety. In short, while staying within budget parameters the HOC has progressed from running only one programming activity for inmates housed at the HOC, an inmate boot camp, to establishing evidence-based multifaceted approach regarding inmate programming activities, educational and job training options.
In June of 2015, in collaboration -with HOC, MAWIB received a Department of Labor grant to establish a job center within the HOC and reentry job program for inmates in and those recently released from custody. At this time MAWIB and the HOC are in the planning stages, but the job center and reentry component will be established and in place just prior to the end of 2015.
Led a Fiscal Recovery
After inheriting Scott Walker’s fiscal mess nearly five years ago, Milwaukee County is turning the corner under County Executive Chris Abele’s leadership. In 2010, the year before Chris took office, the nonpartisan Public Policy Forum examined Milwaukee County’s fiscal trend. The findings were so dire they questioned whether county government should even exist. Thanks for the tough decisions and hard work by Chris and his team, the county deficit was $71 million less than projected by 2014.
Now, the County has rebuilt a solid foundation and is using that to set the goal to be the most empowering, responsive and nimble unit of government anywhere. Leveraging our resources to solve the problems that have plagued our community for generations. The Public Policy Forum also recognizes this monumental shift, noting that Milwaukee County Executive’s 2016 budget “reflects the County’s remarkable progress in reducing health care expenditures and debt service obligations – two of the primary drivers of its long-term structural imbalance – by accommodating an unanticipated spike in its pension contribution with few service reductions and a flat property tax levy, while also providing a pay increase for employees. Such a scenario would have been unthinkable five years ago.”
Thanks to Chris Abele’s leadership, Milwaukee County achieved a bond credit rating upgrade from Fitch Ratings, the first upgrade the County has received in years. Today, the County spends less on debt interest payments and allocates more resources toward progressive priorities, such as parks, transit, mental health care, and other social services – all without a proposed tax increase in five straight budgets.
Because of these changes, In 2016, county workers will receive one of the largest pay increases in the state since the passage of ACT 10, have their health care premiums held flat, and have access to a tuition reimbursement program.