Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Food relief line grows long, tense

Frustration rises, officials caught off-guard as thousands turn out for flood assistance.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinal

The chaos that erupted outside Milwaukee County's main welfare office Monday over disaster-related food aid had more to do with a weak economy and crushing poverty in parts of this community than the devastating floods that swept through the state earlier this month, local government and food relief officials said.

About 3,000 people turned out for the assistance beginning at 3 a.m. Monday, creating a line that stretched several blocks around the Marcia P. Coggs Human Services Center at 1220 W. Vliet St. At least one woman said she was trampled when a crowd rushed the doors as they opened around 7:30 a.m., and dozens of Milwaukee police officers and sheriff's deputies were called to quell the scene.

"The food crisis in Milwaukee and throughout the United States is worse than many of us have realized," said Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines, who with other elected officials called on the community to support local food pantries.

"We expect long lines for free food in Third World countries," Hines said. "We don't expect a line of 2,500 people waiting for food vouchers" in Milwaukee. No one was seriously injured, and there were no arrests Monday, but those in line described the scene as chaotic. Many thought they would receive vouchers immediately, and frustration mounted when some learned that was not the case.

"They just went crazy down there, just totally crazy," said Charline Britt of Milwaukee, who said she was trampled when about 200 people surged forward as the doors opened.

"They kicked me in my back, stepped over my shoes," said Britt, who'd come to the center about 4:30 a.m. because her basement flooded in the recent rains.

"I fainted when I got through the door."

Last week, Gov. Jim Doyle announced that seven Wisconsin counties, including Milwaukee, had become eligible for disaster FoodShare benefits, a federally funded program that offers a month's worth of food stamps to residents who incur damage in a declared disaster and fall below an income threshold. For example, a family of four earning $2,295 this month could get a food voucher worth up to $542. Aid is provided within about seven days, according to the county.

Federal rules do not require applicants to provide proof of either flood damage or income, according to state Department of Health and Family Services Secretary Karen Timberlake. However, residents can be prosecuted for falsifying an application.

Timberlake announced late Monday that 15 additional counties, including Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee and Dane, have qualified for the aid.

Milwaukee County Health and Human Services Director Corey Hoze said his agency processed more than 2,000 applications between Thursday and Friday without incident but was unprepared for the crush of people Monday morning.

"I don't think anybody anticipated this kind of volume," said Hoze, who called in additional staff to try to speed the process.

"I think with last week's announcement, and Juneteenth Day, it just spread tremendously fast by word of mouth," he said. "We have just been inundated."

It didn't take long Monday for state and local officials to begin pointing fingers as they struggled to understand how the Milwaukee situation devolved.

County Supervisor Elizabeth Coggs suggested it might have gone more smoothly had Milwaukee County been given more time to prepare. But the seven-day limit on applications forced the state to work quickly, Timberlake said.

Hoze said the crowd might have been mitigated had his department stuck to its original plan to dispatch its mobile unit into affected communities to process applications. It switched gears, he said, setting up at the main food stamp application process, after the governor's office issued a fact sheet listing the Coggs Center address.

Doyle's spokesman rejected the notion that its announcement might have been a factor.

"I don't want to get to the point where we're pointing fingers and placing blame," said Hoze, noting that the state and county have both beefed up staffing to speed the process the rest of the week.

Don Walker and Alex Lundy of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.

This is where we are heading, read the story here.


Staying Alive said...

I cannot help but wonder how many of these people involved in the mayhem in Milwaukee really had been hurt with flooding or were they just people out for a free meal. I have read accounts that said certain ethnic groups were calling their people out in strength, to show numbers to the media. But, that's just another problem with living in a city, I suppose. Bear Ridge is much better.


Anonymous said...

Well they weren't actually out of food. They just took the vouchers down to Wal-Mart and bought shit with them. I don't see how this has anything to do with food supplies. It's just a bunch of people out for free money.

fallout11 said...

I look forward <*not*> to the day when I can stand in line with thousands for my half kilogram of Soylent Green.
That definitely seems to be the direction we are heading as a society.

Anonymous, last I checked, food stamp vouchers (now in use by some 30 million Americans, a record) were only usable for certain approved food items. At Chinamart, these are labeled with a special 'WIC' code. You can't use them to buy cigarettes or TV's or even towels.

Anonymous said...


I know food stamps can only be used for certain items. I'm not so sure about the disaster relief vouchers though, they may be different.

Anyway that wasn't the point I was trying to make. The point was that there wasn't any food shortage just a shortage of manners and patience by all these assholes waiting in line for a handout. I'm sure there was more than enough food for all them 2 miles down the rood at Wal-Mart.

Marine 83 said...

I seen far to many foodstamps going to buy dingdongs, chips and bottled water.
Most of the people in that line were there for the free lunch. Anonymous is right, this incedent has nothing to do with food shortages here in the U.S. It has to do wiht the welfare state most big cities have become. People who don't want to work because they don't have to. Mean while you and I pay taxes so they can sit on their butts.

Anonymous said...

I think this is more about people not having money or jobs. Without these two items buy food from anywhere is not possible. People are just getting desperate.

Marine 83 said...

The only people getting desperate are those who think the wellfare check might not come in on time. In every community out there where there is a lack of jobs you almost always find antipathy toward education. This is a personal failing of those who do not attend school to learn. Its not my fault, its not societies fault, its not the governments fault. It is the fault of the individual who doesn't take advantage of what is offered in the relm of education. Yes times are getting tough in this country. But most of us are doing what we can to pull through without looking for a handout from Uncle Surgar. I will contend again that most of the unrully crowd in this article were wellfare recipiants looking for a free lunch