The hugely over-budget F-35 fighter jet program recently returned to the headlines when President-elect Donald Trump tweeted that “The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.” Initial projections from 2001 had these planes being combat ready and in full production by 2012, but the most recent estimates don’t have the planes being combat-capable until 2018, and a recent memo from the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Testing obtained by Bloomberg News suggests it could take even longer unless there are additional increases in development funding. A recent Government Accountability Office report also illustrates how costs for development and acquisition have spiraled upward from initial projections. Total program costs are likely to exceed $1.37 trillion, with $379 billion set aside for acquisition of planes and another $1 trillion projected to be needed for fleet maintenance. If President-elect Trump keeps his promise to save billions of dollars on military programs like this one, where else could that money be invested with increased dividends?
The Children’s Defense Fund’s 2015 report Ending Child Poverty Now shows how we can shrink overall child poverty by 60 percent, Black child poverty by 72 percent, rural child poverty by 68 percent, and improve the economic circumstances of 97 percent of poor children simply by investing more in programs that we know work like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), housing subsidies, subsidized jobs, the Child Tax Credit, child care subsidies and others. Doing this will improve the lives and futures of millions of children, help close the huge unjust opportunity gaps, and eventually save taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars annually. The $500 billion a year it costs our nation now to keep more than 14.5 million children in poverty is six times more than the $77 billion investment we propose to reduce child poverty by 60 percent. Child poverty is way too expensive to continue especially when we have other clear choices.
From the same $1.37 trillion the Pentagon is projected to spend on the non-working, grossly over-budget F-35 program, the nation could take steps to reduce child poverty by 60 percent for nearly 18 years — the entire life of a generation of children. Each year the $77 billion would cover — several positive proven steps: Expanding housing assistance for 70 percent of eligible families with incomes below 150 percent of poverty and for whom fair market rent exceeded 50 percent of their income who currently don’t get help because of funding limits. Increasing the value of SNAP benefits for families with children by 30 percent. Making the lowest-income families eligible for the full $1,000 Child Tax Credit for each qualifying child regardless of earned income. Expanding child care subsidies to all families under 150 percent of the poverty line. Boosting the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers with children. Doing this would improve the life chances of millions of children. With the exorbitant costs of the F-35 program under new scrutiny the obvious solution is right in front of our eyes. What will we do with it?
President Eisenhower, a former five star general, reminded us that: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies…a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, and the hope of its children.” Yet we are spending $46.7 billion a month; $10.7 billion a week; $1.5 billion a day; $64 million an hour; $1.1 million a minute; and $17,757 a second on the military. Let’s agree with President-elect Trump on this one and seize this opportunity right now to make another choice by putting children first.
Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children’s Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to staging.childrensdefense.org.
Mrs. Edelman’s Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.