Charles W. Elliott
This past week the U.S. House of Representatives approved a budget measure that would spend $29 billion more on war and preparing for war than even the Pentagon wanted. At the same time, the budget measure effectively launches an assault on the poor and hungry. The New York Times reported that according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, the House bill would push 1.8 million people off food stamps and could cost 280,000 children their school lunch subsidies. It would wipe out health insurance coverage through the federal and state Children’s Health Insurance Program for 300,000 children. Eliminating the social services block grant to state and local governments would hit child abuse prevention programs, Meals on Wheels and child care. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in addition to cutting off nearly two million people from food stamps, the House Agriculture Committee portion of the budget measure would reduce food stamp benefits for more than 44 million others. All in all, a quarter of the budget cuts in the bill would come from programs for the poor.
It’s not hard to understand the human impacts of this cost-cutting. Eliminating school lunch subsidies for 280,000 children will worsen the problem of childhood hunger in the United States, the richest country in the world. Nearly two thirds of K-8 public school teachers say that most (21 percent) or a lot (45 percent) of their students rely on school meals as their primary source of nutrition. “Hunger In Our Schools: Share Our Strength’s Teachers Report“, p. 10. Students are entitled to free lunches if their families’ incomes are below 130 percent of the annual income federal poverty level guideline ($29,055 for a family of four in 2011). Children who are members of households receiving food stamp benefits or cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant, as well as homeless, runaway, and migrant children, also qualify for free meals.
While we turn away hungry children, the bill would provide $632 billion for base defense spending and overseas contingency funds. We suppose that the bill also provides continued funding for such items as the $17,000 drip pan for Black Hawk helicopters and other outrageously wasteful expenditures.
U.S. military expenditures account for 41% of the entire world’s military spending. America currently spends 4.8% of its Gross Domestic Product on the military, about double the global average. Annual U.S. defense spending represents 57% of the federal government’s discretionary budget. When can we say that we have spent enough?
The Quaker organization Friends Committee on National Legislation has a useful posting called “Starving the Hungry to Feed the Pentagon”. The post reminds us that “Right Now, Your Action Matters More Than Ever”:
While we may not have the dollars of Pentagon contractors, we still have something they don’t: our collective power as voters. Studies show that direct meetings with constituents are much more influential in shaping the opinions of members of Congress than visits from professional lobbyists. From May 28th to June 1st, your Senators will be home on recess. It’s not too late to request a visit or to call their offices.
The budget measure passed by the House is not a done deal. The Senate must also adopt a budget measure. Your voices can be heard there.
The political choice to spend more money on war than the military itself requested, and to thus deprive poor children of school lunches–sometimes their only decent meal of the day–is a fundamental distortion of human priorities. It is a choice to take food out of the mouths of children to fund one of the gravest mistakes of humanity. As one blogger recently put it, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing us that we need to spend more money on war, and less on the poor.”