As the federal government’s monetary allocation towards military expenditures soars, residents and community members of the Elm City expressed their increasing dissatisfaction with what they described as a misdirection of much-needed funds away from human services at a Tuesday public hearing.
The Board of Alders’ Human Services Committee held a public hearing in response to a proposed resolution by the Board’s New Haven Peace Commission calling for a reduction in military spending and a redirection of available funds towards housing, social services and education — areas of deep importance to cities like New Haven. At the hearing, representatives of various Elm City human services providers testified in support of the resolution, citing the extreme need for funding while criticizing their U.S. Congress’ approval of increasingly exorbitant funding for military endeavors.
“All of us are painfully aware of persistent budget pressure in policy areas essential for a prosperous city — public safety, public education, housing, workforce development and infrastructure maintenance,” said Mayor Toni Harp through a statement read by mayoral spokesperson Laurence Grotheer. “All these pressures could be reduced or even eliminated if just a portion of federal military funding was redirected to those priorities.”
Chair of the Human Services Committee Ward 26 Alder Darryl Brackeen, Ward 6 Alder Dolores Colón and co-chair of the Greater New Haven Peace Council Henry Lowendorf requested the hearing. The resolution presented Tuesday referenced the growing national military budget — which was increased to approximately $700 billion this year — and the impact of decreased state and federal revenue on New Haven’s budget.
For Tuesday’s testifiers, the crux of the discussion centered on the ways in which federal funding could help residents. A slew of speakers — including representatives from the New Haven Peoples Center, New Haven Public Schools and the service and advocacy group Junta for Progressive Action — rattled off the many ways in which the quality of life of the Elm City could be improved by increased financial resources.
Alfred Marder, a representative from the Peace Commission, shared with attendees insights into the depth of the Elm City’s financial difficulties and provided a laundry list of ways in which the billions of dollars currently spent on military provisions could improve the daily lives of New Haven’s residents.
The Elm City is currently struggling to balance its poor fiscal health with its commitment to providing social services. To prevent bankruptcy, the city opted for its largest-ever restructuring of debt this summer to prevent bankruptcy. And an 11 percent property tax hike implemented this summer was the highest tax increase of any city in Connecticut this year.
In the wake of such severe fiscal concerns, spending has been cut throughout various parts of the city’s budgets. Widely felt cuts included school closures and teacher layoffs.
Patterns emerged in the Tuesday testimony, as attendees highlighted issues of rampant hunger, lack of affordable housing and under-resourced schools in the district. The Executive Director of the Housing Authority of New Haven, Karen DuBois-Walton, who could not attend the event, submitted written testimony underscoring the struggles that the city face with respect to high rents.
In her testimony, she pointed out that the region is significantly more rent burdened than the United States in general, with 59 percent of families spending 30 percent or more of their household income on rent. New Haven’s housing agencies, DeBois-Walton wrote, are severely limited in their capacity to serve families in need.
The speakers also highlighted their discontent with the underlying causes for the United States’ high military spending. Acting Chief Administrative Officer Sean Matteson denounced the federal government’s choice to direct spending towards building influence abroad while neglecting the problems that cripple communities at home.
“We have been building an empire of political influence through military might for decades,” Matteson told the Committee. “To continue to fund our military policing across the globe comes at the expense of domestic programs … Cities like New Haven will continue to suffer as federal dollars shrink for human services.”
James Pandaru, a veteran of the Vietnam War who served 24 years in the military, echoed Matteson’s sentiment. He criticized the country’s “culture of violence and war” and the rise of that culture as “a given.”
Some testifiers called out Connecticut’s congressional delegation for approving the military-centered budget in Washington D.C. They acknowledged that, although the Board of Alders has no vote in federal matters, local politics has the power to influence New Haven’s representatives in the nation’s capital.
An amendment to the resolution — proposed at the hearing — recommended an ordinance that would require Harp to send a yearly request for public disclosure of military spending to New Haven’s federal congressional representatives.
The Alders on the committee directed few questions to the testifiers — the only notable inquiry came from Ward 7 Alder Abby Roth ’90 LAW ’94, who asked Mary Compton of the Greater New Haven Peace Council about the potential impact of lessened military spending on military-related jobs in the area. Although Compton did not know the exact statistics, she assured Roth and the Committee that the jobs that could be created if funds were redirected would likely outweigh any loss of military-related jobs.
There are 30 members on New Haven’s Board of Alders.
Angela Xiao | firstname.lastname@example.org .