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The Dismal ScienceThoughts on Welfare
by Adam Smith
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, we have a great church welfare system that was created by inspiration. When we look at how the world implements welfare it is easy to become disillusioned, shake our heads, and wonder why they can’t perceive how well our system works and just copy the church welfare system.
I need to let you know what my biases are about welfare. I firmly believe that a welfare safety net is needed in our society. There are so many different scenarios where people find themselves in a situation where they are unable to care for themselves or their families. As a country that has been temporally blessed with so much, it would be a sin if we did not have a way to care for the poor among us.
On the other hand, I think it is wrong for a government to have such a lavish welfare system that many people who start using the system are comfortable with their situation and cease trying to make a living and earn their own way. This type of system robs people of their self esteem and places them permanently at the bottom of the economic ladder.
So having the correct welfare system is a very tight balancing act between providing enough relief so people have food and a place to live, but not too much so people quit trying to earn a living.
The church welfare system is a perfect example of this balance. When tough times fall on a family, then immediate needs are satisfied. The welfare system is then explained to the family that it is not long term, will not be used to sustain a lifestyle that current and future earnings cannot sustain, and that there will be some work required from them (if possible with their health) for the assistance they receive, and that there has to be a plan for how they will become self-sustaining.
In the little bit of experience I had in administering the church welfare program, I have seen it change lives. So why doesn’t the government just take our welfare template and use it for everyone?
Let’s delve into the details of how the church welfare system works.
A person comes to the bishop and says that their electricity is going to be turned off in a week if not paid. The bishop makes a few broad inquiries about why the assistance is needed. He then explains that either the high priests group leader or elders quorum president will be setting up a meeting with them to go over their finances. He also takes the bill and approves the use of fast offerings to pay their electric bill.
The priesthood leader meets with the family to determine revenue and expenses for the family and comes up with a plan on how they will improve their situation. Does there need to be additional part time work taken, or more education or getting a license in a field to increase income, is their discretionary spending that could be eliminated, or maybe they just need an understanding of how to use and implement a budget?
The priesthood leader then meets with the bishop to go over the results of his visit. The plan agreed to by the leader and the family is explained to the bishop, and he gets a clear understanding of how the family will go from needing assistance to making it on their own. The plan gets approved or modified by the bishop.
It is likely that the bishop will then call the Relief Society president and let her know what the situation is and ask her to meet with the family to determine their food needs. She will help them fill out a food order to cover a two-week period and will continue to do that until the plan is completed.
The priesthood leader will also coordinate with the family and the bishop storehouse to have someone from the family go to the storehouse and work. The leader will follow up periodically to make sure the plan is progressing or needs adjusting. He will also coordinate between the family and the ward employment specialist if needed.
Visiting and home teachers will get a broad overview of the situation and be on the lookout for needs that are not being met. Some people are proud and determined and may not ask for enough assistance to feed their family. In the Church, this is much too prevalent and provides sleepless nights for bishops. Visiting and home teachers are great at keeping a vigilant watch over a family in need.
Let’s add up the people helping this family. Home and visiting teachers, ward employment specialist, Relief Society president, priesthood leader, bishop, storehouse workers. Let’s estimate 10 in total.
Do you see why the government cannot implement the church welfare system? It is because of you. As members of the Church we take seriously our consecration covenants and the commandment to help others. We dedicate so much time into each welfare case and treat each situation with love and respect.
The government should still try to walk that fine line between helping people and helping too much. But implement our welfare system? Not unless they get a lot of employees that are willing to work for blessings from heaven instead of money.
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