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City of Milwaukee Health Commissioner Interviewed with Wisconsin Health News

Monday, January 21, 2019  
Posted by: Wisconsin Health News
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Partial federal shutdown impacting Milwaukee's lead efforts, says health commissioner

The partial federal shutdown is impacting Milwaukee’s lead cleanup work, the city’s health commissioner said Wednesday.

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development issued a "stop work order” last year on programs and efforts funded by one of its grants.

It notified the city’s health department in late December that it was preparing to lift the order, according to Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik.

“Then what happened? The shutdown,” Kowalik said at a Milwaukee Press Club luncheon Wednesday. “So we’re waiting for the shutdown to end so we can continue work.”

Once the order is lifted, the city will be able to apply for the federal grant money again, she said. She added that the city’s efforts are continuing as HUD is not its only funding source.

“We know there’s other resources that can be used to pay for the abatement,” she said.

Kowalik became the city’s health commissioner in September, months after former Commissioner Bevan Baker resigned following revelations the health department didn’t follow up with families of lead-poisoned children.

Addressing the problems in the department's lead programs will be challenging, Kowalik said.

"We are trying to fix a department, a program that is super complex," she said. "So it's going to take time."

She added that winter tends to be a slower season for lead abatements. Once it gets warm, “things are going to ramp up,” she said.

"We want to use this time of year to really calibrate and get to where we need to be," she said.

Kowalik also said she supports the legalization of medical marijuana. She noted that in some cities like Washington D.C., the health department managed the licensing of dispensaries and issuing patient cards.

She added that that legalization will also need "a very intentional plan for reducing and eliminating youth exposure to marijuana."

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