With the selection of Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee for the office of President of the United States, a lot of attention has come to his church (and mine) – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I was asked if I would write a post that detailed the church’s welfare program. This post isn’t meant to recruit or convert people to my church. Rather, it’s to convince people that work requirements as a condition of receiving welfare or other benefits have positive results and benefit society.
When we conservatives hear the word welfare, we almost cringe. Not because we don’t think it’s important to care for the poor, but because of HOW we care for the poor. President Obama has been called the “Welfare President” and the “Food Stamp President.” Last month, he ended the work requirement for welfare recipients, turning the program into a one-way benefit that incentivized laziness.
Since the President took office in 2009, food stamp use has jumped 46%! Spending on the welfare program has more than doubled to nearly $76 billion annually. As of last month, nearly 5% of ALL AMERICANS are on some form of welfare.
While our politicians like to battle with each other about the efficiency and future of these programs, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (“the LDS Church” or “Mormons”) has successfully managed a fully funded, non-governmental program for more than 76 years. The thing that distinguishes this program from state and federal programs is something that I’d like to highlight here in the hopes that the talking heads in Washington see how a good welfare program can actually make people more productive and less dependent.
The program was started in 1936 by then-First Counselor David O. McKay. During the inauguration, McKay stated that “[The welfare program] is established by divine revelation, and there is nothing else in the entire world that can so effectively take care of its members”
I’m a firm believer that America needs to get back to its roots. Families are no longer expected to take care of their own because the government has taken over that role. Non-profits and churches serve to merely augment those government programs. The roots of the LDS welfare program begin with the individual church member.
We follow the admonition in Proverbs to “Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase.” Our Doctrine and Covenants – an additional set of scriptures that is canonized alongside the King James Bible and Book of Mormon – clarifies a proper tithe to be 10%. Without these tithes, the church would not be able to take care of its own and others suffering through disasters.
In the early 1930s, the country was suffering the worst depression in its history. Unemployment was rampant across the country. In Utah, where the LDS Church is headquartered, unemployment was over 36%. Many people were clamoring for government assistance because they knew it would not have to be paid back. The President and prophet of the church at the time, President Heber J. Grant, said that this mentality “is all wrong.”
Church leaders began the work of helping struggling members without promoting idleness and a sense of entitlement (sound familiar?). The goal of Church leaders was to help people help themselves become independent without sacrificing the necessities of life.
In July 1933 the First Presidency set forth fundamental principles and for the first time outlined specific relief measures that could be carried out Churchwide. “ Our able-bodied members must not, except as a last resort, be put under the embarrassment of accepting something for nothing. … Church officials administering relief must devise ways and means by which all able-bodied Church members who are in need, may make compensation for aid given them by rendering some sort of service.”
Many people assume that because conservative want to require welfare recipients to work or volunteer as a condition for receiving assistance we are somehow inhumane or uncaring. For nearly 100 years, the LDS Church has made such service a part of the welfare program. No one can say that the church is either inhumane or uncaring. And only those “able-bodied” are expected to do so.
When I joined the Army in 1995, I brought home $500 per month. I was newly married and we had a kid on the way. We were eating ramen, spaghetti with butter (couldn’t afford sauce), and rice. When my old Hyundai conked out, I needed a dependable car to get to and from work. The insurance and payments for our un-air conditioned, 4-speed, Suzuki Esteem took a major chunk of our money. We pulled old mattresses out of a dumpster behind a furniture store that were traded in by customers for new ones. Since we had no frame, we slept on the mattresses on the floor. We literally lived out of our suit cases because we couldn’t afford dressers. We had a folding table for a kitchen table and a wicker chair that was given to us in our living room. We had no TV and just a portable CD player with speakers plugged in for entertainment. Thankfully, we lived at Ft. Ord and could walk to the beach or visit the Fisherman’s Wharf and sample all the free clam chowder.
One day, some leaders from church asked my wife and I if we could watch their kids while they traveled to Oakland for the day. Later that night, we heard the doorbell ring and saw them standing outside their own door. Odd. When we opened the door, they took us out to their truck where a brand new desk with a chair and dresser were loaded onto a trailer behind their truck. These items had been purchased for us after seeing how we lived. It was the first real furniture we owned and we still have it to this day even though it doesn’t match anything.
But, we were still struggling. I finally swallowed my pride and went to my bishop to ask for advice and counsel. The first question was, “are you a full tithe payer?” He didn’t ask this question because church assistance was dependent upon paying a full tithe. He asked it because we believe that there are blessings that come from paying a full tithe. These blessings weren’t being afforded my wife and I because we didn’t think we could afford to give away $50 each month.
The bishop sat down with us and we went over our budget. It was clear we weren’t wasting money nor were we trying to live above our means. He came up with a plan in which the church would pay for all of our groceries until we got back on our feet. He asked that in exchange, we pay a full and honest tithe and volunteer to help on the church farm.
The farm was really a peach grove and members of the church volunteered to pick and prune the trees. The fruit was both washed and packed whole or sliced and canned. It was then sent to storehouses throughout the country. It was hard work, but by volunteering we were given the opportunity to buy peaches at extremely low prices after each shift of work to take home. For the first time, we could actually afford to have healthy fruit in the house. I felt good knowing that the support I was being given was earned, rather than just given.
After just 4 months of being on the church’s welfare program we were somehow able to survive without it. We weren’t making any additional money and we were paying a full tithe. I personally attribute this to the blessings of my God for giving freely of my earnings. There is really no other way to explain how we were able to make ends meet and still buy groceries that were healthy and substantial for what we needed. When Emily got pregnant we did participate in the WIC program for a while, which provided beans, peanut butter and milk for us.
Over the years, the Church welfare program has grown to meet the ever-increasing needs of an expanding Church. In North America today, 80 Church farms produce nutritious food for the needy. Eighty cannery facilities preserve and package this life-sustaining food. More than 100 bishops’ storehouses stand ready to assist more than 10,000 bishops and branch presidents as they carry out their sacred obligation to seek out and assist the poor and needy in their wards and branches. Fifty Deseret Industries operations offer work and training to thousands. Worldwide, 160 employment centers help more than 78,000 people find jobs each year. Sixty-five LDS Social Services offices help member couples adopt children and provide counseling to those in need. And throughout all these programs, one can find volunteers giving back for what was given to them.
The welfare program of the Church is well known throughout the world. People from all walks of life travel to Church headquarters to see firsthand how the Church cares for the poor and needy without creating dependency on the part of those who receive or bitterness on the part of those who give.
But the church welfare program is about more than just giving away food, clothing or money. There are many aspects of the program. There are programs that assist in addiction recovery. There are programs that help with family issues. There is single parent and family counseling. And there are programs to combat pornography.
Even after the Depression came to an end, President J. Reuben Clark, then a Counselor in the First Presidency, providentially advocated continuing the welfare program. In October 1945, U.S. President Harry S. Truman called on Church President George Albert Smith to determine how and when supplies could be delivered to devastated areas of Europe. To Truman’s astonishment, Church leaders replied that the food and clothing and other relief supplies were already collected and ready for shipping.
Over time, the Church expanded its welfare facilities and programs to cover more areas of need, including more geographical areas. In the 1970s the Church expanded its welfare projects and production to Mexico, England, and the Pacific Islands. During the following decade, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay became the first countries to receive Church employment centers outside the United States.
With the formation of Church Humanitarian Services in 1985, the Church’s international welfare efforts grew tremendously as clothing and other goods were sorted for shipment around the world in response to poverty and disasters.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the United States, LDS volunteers were in the area before the Red Cross delivering food, clothing, and other provisions. When the tsunami hit Japan, the church again played a major role in assisting families that lost their homes and lives. And when Obama’s economy hits families across the country, you can bet that the church is there lending a helping hand.
Our country would be well served to emulate the programs of the church. Besides the elderly and infirm, it is rare that individuals stay on church welfare programs for long periods of time. This is because they are expected to give back as they are given. There is no animosity in that. Church leaders sit down with recipients regularly to go over finances and ensure that an agreed-to plan is progressing. Church employment specialists are present in nearly every single church building around the world helping those without jobs to seek and find income. And here’s the kicker: it works.
As individuals develop their own self-reliance through faith in Jesus Christ, they can help others become self-reliant.
The Savior provided the perfect example of what He taught: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).
When people worry about the devastation that a Mitt Romney presidency would bring to the country, one need look no further than the standards he already lives by for the truth. Yes, to the dependency class, this would come as a shock to the system. Can you imagine if Americans were encouraged to be more dependent on themselves instead of the government by stealing the concepts of the LDS Welfare Program? Where would the liberals find their votes then? How would their nanny state function then?
The effects of making citizens work for their welfare would send such a positive rippling effect through the economy that we’ve never seen before. City, State, and Federal governments would have a huge volunteer force to assist in their programs. This would reduce the cost of payroll for literally hundreds of thousands of government workers. With a reduced payroll comes less of a need for taxes to sustain these programs and personnel. This means that citizens would have more money in their pockets to spend as they please, including by giving more to churches and non-profits better suited for handling the poverty, homeless, and jobless problem. This means that businesses would have more money to hire paid employees and grow which creates an increase in tax revenues.
Because people would be empowered to be self-sustaining and independent, there would be fewer people collecting welfare. If we force people to work for the money that is freely given to them, they would be more likely to find a job that actually pays better instead of working for the bare minimum provided by the government. No free cell phones. No free internet. No free this and that.
Those who don’t think it can work need look no further than the LDS Church’s Welfare Program. Here’s a great video that summarizes everything I’ve written here.
“Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.” –Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, Query 19, 1781