Here in Rhode Island, we know that to recover from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will need to rethink how we define security and reinvest in our local communities.
Last year the average Rhode Island taxpayer paid $2,941.65 in federal income taxes to the Pentagon and military — over half of that went to military contractors. Even then, the Pentagon made about $11.4 billion in payment errors in 2020. Yet, the Pentagon is due to receive a budget increase equal to the entire CDC budget for FY2022.
These funds would be better invested in domestic programs that build secure lives for everyone. In fact, it is past time to rethink how we even define security.
As the Congressional appropriations process ramps up, we must commit to reprioritizing our federal spending, and funding public investments that make American communities safer in the long run. At the top of my list are affordable housing, public transportation, and green jobs. Here’s why:
1. Housing is security. The pandemic has underscored how important having safe, affordable homes are key to everything from emotional wellbeing to public health. The Rhode Island Senate just passed legislation I sponsored, the Real Estate Conveyance Tax Act, and it passed the general assembly as part of a larger appropriations package for FY2022. The program establishes a dedicated public fund to support the creation of affordable housing in Rhode Island. This legislation is a first step to assist Rhode Islanders, and the federal government needs to follow suit to invest in our communities.
As Americans struggle to find suitable employment and rent moratoriums cease in the comeback from the pandemic, affordable housing will be essential. Evictions post-covid have been kept at bay as a result of eviction moratoriums put in place by cities and states to stave off massive waves of homelessness. While this helped in the short-term, the pending housing crisis in Rhode Island will soon reach new heights if Congress and the Rhode Island legislature don’t work together.
One startling study found that not a single municipality in Rhode Island has an affordable fair-market two-bedroom apartment for those who are at Rhode Island’s median renter income of $34,255. To make matters worse, there are no dedicated women’s shelters in the state, while calls to domestic violence helplines rose by nearly 30 percent last year. To recover from the devastating economic downturn of the pandemic, states are having to take matters into their own hands in the absence of federal protection.
2. A livable climate is security. As global temperatures and sea levels rise, America’s ports and cities will bear the brunt of the impact and cost of natural disasters, threatening our recovering economy. Rhode Islanders know this all too well, as we are the first state in the contiguous U.S. whose average temperature has risen above 2 degrees Celsius. America needs critical investments in clean energy to prevent major sea level rise, urban warming, and other problems related to climate change. Rhode Island is doing its part to act on climate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions as party to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). By making investments in clean energy like wind and solar, we can revive local economies while diversifying our energy resources and securing our energy future.
Climate change is also seen as a threat multiplier around the globe, meaning that extreme weather events exacerbate underlying economic and political tension, leading to instability and the likelihood of failed states, which can produce conditions ripe for extremism, authoritarianism, and radical ideologies, according to the CNA. “On the simplest level, it has the potential to create sustained natural and humanitarian disasters on a scale far beyond those we see today.” Addressing the climate crisis is investing in security.
3. Economic well-being is security. Fighting back against climate change also helps Rhode Islanders secure good paying jobs. Public dollars invested in sustainable sectors like clean energy create significantly more jobs — in some cases as many as double the jobs — in our local economies when compared to investing an equivalent amount in the defense sector. In 2021, taxpayers in Rhode Island paid $2.34 billion towards the military. Just 10 percent of that sum could have instead created 3,165 clean energy jobs or powered 605,398 households with wind power.
Improving our country’s infrastructure will make our country safer — it will make us less vulnerable to the effects of catastrophic climate change, it will protect our ability to grow food, and incorporate people into the labor market. Funding more weapons and an agency that has chronic bureaucratic waste will not do those things. We cannot wait for another disaster to open our eyes: we need bold public investments now to ensure communities are resilient in the face of the next disaster.
We do not need more corporate handouts to defense contractors—this does not create more security. Rather, we need to re-envision security, and build it around public investments that make our communities stronger and better able to face the challenges that await.
R.I. State Senator Meghan Kallman represents North Pawtucket and North Providence. She is a member of the Women Legislators’ Lobby.