OP-ED: Martin Luther King Jr.'s warning


A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom" was Martin Luther King, Jr.'s warning in an address at Riverside Church, N.Y., on April 4, 1967.

To put his warning in context, he was speaking about the money then being poured into the Vietnam War which, as part of the 1967 military expenditures, amounted to 44.5 percent of the federal budget while 2 percent was allocated to the Department of Education and 6 percent to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Regrettably, as evidenced in the $1.03 trillion Omnibus Spending Bill, passed on Jan. 14, just six days before we honored Dr. King with a day of remembrance, the priorities of Congress have not changed in the 46 years since Dr. King spoke. Included in the bill are $520.5 billion for defense, plus another $85.2 billion to pay for the 12 year old war in Afghanistan. These expenditures account for over 53 percent of the Federal Discretionary Budget which are dollars not mandated for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

As a comparison, the discretionary dollars allocated under the Omnibus Bill include 6.2 percent to the Department of Education and 6.8 percent to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Regrettably, in order to pass the Omnibus Bill, many programs which Dr. King would call "social uplift" have been cut or not included. One spending bill that was cut was the Farm Bill which includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program commonly known as "food stamps." SNAP, which has seen a nearly 100 percent increase over the last five years, is based on a heat-and-eat eligibility formula.

The cut to the Farm Bill now requires states to pay at least $20 in heating assistance to eligible households. This formula change will reduce but not eliminate food-stamp payments but will, nonetheless, cut nearly $9 billion in desperately needed food-stamps from approximately 800,000 households over the next 10 years.

An increase in the program that many low wage earners depend on for basic subsistence was not even included in the Omnibus Bill when Congress failed to hike the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour by 2016.

Arguably, the most egregious "deal" that was made in order to pass the Omnibus Bill was when Congress turned its back on the long-term unemployed. By refusing to extend emergency Unemployment Insurance, a fund that people pay into their entire working lives, 1,300,000 unemployed Americans will lose their benefits beginning this month; the number could climb to 3.6 million by the end of the year. Although the number of workers directly affected is staggering, the ripple effect throughout the nation's economy reveals an indirect impact.

Consider: $400 million that state economies will lose each week; an estimated 240,000 job losses due to reduced consumer demand. Unemployment insurance doesn't just help job seekers, it also supports their children as evidenced by the approximately 600,000 children who were kept out of poverty in 2012 because their families received UI (source: chief economist of Moody's Analytics). The speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), was ready, willing and able to join with Democrats and include an extension to emergency Unemployment Insurance if, and only if, cuts were made in other programs.

Dr. King's warning still rings true. Included in the Omnibus Bill, the Department of Defense will purchase 29 new F-35 fighter planes with a pre-purchase order for an additional 42 planes with each plane costing $230 million. How much closer are we to "spiritual doom?"

Andrew Schoerke of Shaftsbury is a member of Veterans for Peace.


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