Activists repeat demand for more spending on social programs, less on military

April 10, 1994|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Sun Staff Writer

About 100 people gathered in a Northeast Baltimore church basement yesterday to continue an annual demand that the federal government redirect more money from the military to social programs.

"We're not asking the federal government for a handout," said Cecilia Nadozie, co-chairwoman of the Baltimore Jobs With Peace Campaign. "We're asking them to give us some of our tax dollars so we can do what we need to do."

As it is, Baltimore's Development Commission, a group assembled in 1987 to highlight the impact of military spending on job, housing, education and health programs, feels that too much federal money is spent on the military.

In a report compiled last fall, the six-member commission said that the military receives 47 cents of every federal tax dollar. By contrast, the commission found, only 1 cent goes to employment and training, 2 cents go to housing and community development, and 3 cents go to education.

In testimony before Baltimore's Development Commission at St. Francis of Assisi Church, a number of city leaders and community activists said cities desperately need to get the federal government to change its spending priorities.

They said that contrary to popular belief, if military spending were moved to job training, infrastructure and public works investments, the nation's economy would gain jobs.

Speakers also advanced their ideas for helping to alleviate the city's social problems.

Former U.S. Rep. Parren J. Mitchell, a member of the development commission, solicited donations for a Dollars for Jobs program, which seeks to raise $250,000 in seed money in the hope of creating 3,000 jobs for the city's hard-core unemployed. Mr. Mitchell envisioned the initial money being matched by the city and supplemented with federal dollars.

"Unemployment is the most depressing thing that can happen to a human being," Mr. Mitchell said.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke talked about the city's efforts to win designation as a federal empowerment zone, which would bring $100 million in direct federal grants.

Other speakers -- most of whom run community-based service organizations -- talked about the need for better cooperation between the city and its suburbs, and the development of a transportation system that can take city residents to jobs in far-flung office parks and malls.

That is necessary because the city is growing increasingly poor and job opportunities are becoming more scarce. Citywide, unemployment is at 11 percent, according to the testimony. In some depressed neighborhoods, it hovers at a staggering 25 percent.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke pushed her idea for a change in Baltimore's charter to allow city government to contract directly with neighborhood community corporations for job-training programs, rehabilitating vacant homes, cutting grass and cleaning public buildings.

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