"We are no strangers to people suffering from poverty, hunger and living in substandard housing," said Brother Steve O'Neill, provincial counselor for social justice of the New York Province of the Society of Mary. "We have ministered to those neglected by society for many, many years.
"The federal budget is a moral document," he added. "All public policy must be measured by the effect it will have on those who are poor and vulnerable, how it will enhance human dignity and enable every person to reach his or her full human potential."
The call was issued to coincide with "Tax Day," the deadline for filing federal income tax returns.
"Religious communities are on the front lines confronting the problems created by poverty," said Nancy Small, national coordinator of Pax Christi USA, the American arm of the international Catholic peace movement.
"But even the immense range of all their ministries and work can't mend the cracks our country's most vulnerable fall through when our government spends enormous amounts on the Pentagon and a minuscule amount on health care, education, job training, housing and other social needs," she said.
In a paper released with the call, the Roman Catholic religious communities said that for every 50 cents the United States spends on the military, it spends roughly 6 cents on education and 4 cents on health care. It said the Pentagon budget for fiscal year 2001 is $305 billion, an increase of $12 billion over 2000.