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Ye Who Have Not And Yet Have Sufficient

My husband hangs up the phone and smiles broadly. He got the job. Burned out after seven years of teaching high school music, we’d decided to change careers. A feat not easily accomplished with his narrow educational background. This new job is in an entirely new field, and we feel all the luck of landing it with no prior experience. It’s a substantial pay cut, but the job offers training and a professional work environment.

It’s a new start.
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I pore over our budget sheet, tweaking here, adjusting there. After paying all our bills, we have $300 left for food. I’m encouraged. $75 per week should be enough. My one nagging concern is that the only flexibility in the budget is in the food category. Any unforeseen expenses will have to be deducted from there.

We should still be okay.
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The test results are positive–we’re unexpectedly pregnant. After sorting through the initial tangle of emotions–surprise, joy, fear–my biggest concern becomes transportation. We will not be able to fit four kids in our paid-for car. A pit settles in my stomach as I think about trying to make a new payment.
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The kids look at me with expectant eyes. School pictures proofs came home today, and they are excited to buy. I look at the order sheet. The cheapest package is $12 and consists of mostly wallet-sized pictures. I can buy one 8 x 10 for $10. I do a quick mental inventory of our pantry and think about what we need for the week. Will $50 cover it? I look at my boys again and decide it will have to. I’ve said “no” to so many other things. We order one sheet for each child.
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My parents have given me a wheat grinder for my birthday, and I’m learning how to make bread and pancakes from scratch. We’re eating more oatmeal for breakfast. I’m careful to shop on Mondays because that’s when the local grocery store reduces the price of meats that are about to expire. I cook everything thoroughly to make sure we do not get sick.
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We are having a homemade Christmas, not out of sentimental nostalgia for simpler times but because of necessity. Somehow, the kids don’t notice any difference and neither do we. It’s a beautiful day.
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The school has encouraged those who qualify for lunch programs to apply. It helps secure federal funding for the school. I pick up a form and fill it out hesitantly. I can see that we qualify but I’m unsure about participating in the program.

We get a letter in a few weeks saying that we’ve qualified for free lunches, and I’m surprised by the relief I feel. The kids will get vegetables, fruit, milk. It’s more than the refilled water bottle and peanut butter sandwich I can offer, though we still do home lunches often.
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My oldest needs a coat. The thrift stores do not have anything in his size. eBay has become a financial haven–the sole reason we continue to pay for dial-up internet service. Click, scroll, click, scroll. I find a coat that does not appear to be too worn. The colors are nice. It’s his size. The price is $3. With shipping, it will still be less than $8. Click, order. Wipe tears of gratitude.
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I look at the other mothers in the WIC office. They look like me. Did I expect them not to? My children are weighed, measure, tested for the amount of iron in their blood. I fill out paperwork about their diets. No, they do not get five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. I sign up to take classes about nutrition. I leave with coupons for milk, juice, cereal, and cheese. Miracle. I’m grateful to live in a generous country.

But I still blush when I hand the coupons to the cashier for the first time.
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I think about what I can do to earn money. Not much with my swollen, heavy belly. Medical expenses loom ahead, there are repair bills on the car, shoes with holes, birthdays coming up. My husband has taken an after-hours job cleaning local businesses. The pay is low, and he is so tired.

The idea comes to start teaching piano lessons. I taught years earlier, but decided it was too difficult with young children. Now, I cling to the idea like a drowning man to a rope. I create a curriculum and studio policies. I sign up as a piano teacher at the music store and hang flyers at several businesses. All we need is an extra $100 a month. Then I would be able to breathe.

No one calls.
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My water broke in the middle of the night and we are on our way to the hospital. We stop at the businesses my husband is responsible for so he can do some minimal cleaning. I wait in the dark, listening to the rain pat on the windshield, breathing against the contractions, while my well-educated, thoughtful husband empties the trash.
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I’ve tried to make crackers, but they taste terrible. The kids try to eat them but eventually wander away without finishing. I sweep the remains into the trash with my hand, angry that I’ve wasted the ingredients, angry that a $1 box of store-brand crackers has become a luxury.
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I have $23 for food this week. I carefully check my list and place items in the cart. Half-way through, I realize it’s too much and begin putting things back. What used to be a game of finding bargains has become a grinding burden. Our food storage has dwindled and we have no way to replace it. We’ve done everything we can do and it is not enough. My eyes sting as I place the food back on the shelf.
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I decide to do something I’ve never done before–claim a blessing. I pray to the Lord, with quiet desperation, and remind Him that we have always been full tithe payers. I tell Him that it is time for the promised windows of heaven to open, that I cannot keep going this way for much longer. I’m not even sure what I am praying for, but I trust that God knows.

Two weeks later, my husband tells me about a job he saw advertised that day. I know it is the answer. I’m not even sure how I know–it is a rare gift of faith that I do not experience often. He applies, interviews, and is offered the job. It will increase our salary by 50%. We will still technically be below the poverty line for a family of our size, but I feel as though we have been given the moon.
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The TV is tuned to KBYU. The kids, tired of watching, have drifted downstairs to play. An old BYU devotional comes on–Pres. Benson. The message is mostly background noise until some of the words catch my ear. He is talking about government food programs. “Every individual who accepts an unearned government gratuity is just as morally culpable as the individual who takes a handout from taxpayers’ money to pay his heat, electricity, or rent,” he is saying. “You did not come to this university to become a welfare recipient…You are not here to be a parasite or freeloader. The price you pay for ‘something for nothing’ may be more than you can afford.”

The words sting like needles. They bounce through my head–freeloader, parasite, morally culpable–while I make lunch. I remember the many grilled cheese sandwiches I made with cheese I hadn’t paid for. I feel upset and confused, wondering if I need to repent for using the coupons. It had seemed like a blessing.

Morally culpable.
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My baby is now four years old. We weathered our financial storm through the grace of God and with some help. In a church that prides itself on thrift, self-sufficiency, and hard work (all important values), I’ve learned that there are strong opinions on the nature of financial help–what help is acceptable, under what circumstances it is acceptable, and so on. I’ve made my peace with the road we traveled.

I’ve learned the dangers of extrapolating Lehi’s promise that “the righteous will prosper” into its inverse–that those who have not prospered are not righteous. The Lord prospers us in many ways. Sometimes it is by finding a $3 coat on eBay.

Even in our poorest times, I’ve felt all the richness of living in a comfortable, heated home, of never going truly hungry, of knowing that opportunities are available and better times will come.

Tell me what you’ve learned about the nature of money, the morality of accepting help, and the richness of life.

61 thoughts on “Ye Who Have Not And Yet Have Sufficient”

  1. this literally brought me to tears. Several of my friends have done WIC and free lunches and as a fellow tax-payer I simply feel grateful "that we live in a generous country" I think Pres. Benson was speaking to the welfare lifestyle and certainly not to a family like yours.

    Thank you for your beautiful honest writing.

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  2. someone gave me a $25 grocery store gift card that i do not need. i will give it to my relief society president this sunday to hand to somebody who does need it

    and for what it is worth, i don't allow myself to notice anymore when a mother in the checkout line is using coupons of any kind, whether wic or cut from the newspaper. i am just happy that her burden has been lifted, even if only by a little bit

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  3. My daughter receives free lunches at school… I am the mom that hands the WIC coupons over wearily to our local teeny tiny grocery store clerk and cringes…. Recently my husband lost his job and I had to go apply for food stamps…. granted it was one of the hardest days of my life. I am grateful each and every night when I feed my family dinner and yet horrified when I go to the store. Money is often the root of many an argument in our home and the cause of nights I do not sleep…. I hate that it controls so many things. I know that it will not be this way forever I just honestly wish that it didnt overshaddow so many other parts of life.

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  4. i have been wondering about similar topics. haven't we all, lately?

    i'm currently considering a switch to the nursing profession, something i've been interested in before, but never really pursued because math and chemistry don't come naturally to me. in a perfect world, i might pursue a phd in literature and spend the rest of my life in a university…

    but…

    i feel a responsibility to take look after myself, and though i love literature, i personally feel that i could take better care of myself in a more stable industry with more opportunities. my task now is to decide whether the concern and worry that clench my heart every time the economy dips, the frustration i feel every time i face the job search as just another liberal arts grad, are enough for me to make a more prudent decision as far as careers go and leave my interests to my private time. it may sound sad, but it doesn't feel that way to me. it's just a decision about a career vs. a hobby.

    i understand what President Benson was saying, and sometimes i wonder if i could honestly claim government benefits when i could have done more with my education and job wise to pursue a more stable career path. is it the taxpayer's problem that i didn't make myself more marketable? companies are laying people off left and right, and if that happened to me and i had to accept assistance, i couldn't help but feel that i was partially in that position because of my own decisions to pursue paths that i thought would be fun or interesting. i couldn't help but feel that my first responsibility was personal responsibility, and doing whatever i needed to in order to take care of myself so that i would be less likely to need help at a future date.

    that was a tangent, so now to your prompts…

    we all have certain beliefs about the welfare system until it's our sister in line with WIC coupons, or our best friend who has to ask the bishop to pay her rent, or until that day when we are the ones who have to get our health care from the free clinic. the Spirit whispers in our hearts and guides us down the paths we need to go. your family attended to their problems with a survival mentality that would have made the pioneers proud. you worked and worked and worked to make your situation work, and when you had worn out all of your options, you asked for help from systems that, i will remind you, you had been paying into your entire lives.

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  5. I've learned that if none of us are accepting the grace of another, no one gets the privilege of serving. If I'm not allowing someone to serve me, I am denying them the blessings of God.

    The church has established a welfare program not in order to condemn those that use it, but to sustain each other in hard times. It's certainly a tenuous balance between use and abuse, but the Lord is aware of each of our particular struggles, and has created a beautiful way to love and serve each other in our darkest hours.

    I am enormously grateful for the system that has literally saved some of my family members during crisis.

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  6. I do not believe accepting help is culpable when we are doing what we can. I do believe it can be culpable when it is seen as entitlement. When it robs one of a desire to work, or improve their situation in the long term. We believe in helping those in need, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked – it's central to Christ's message. It's essential to our salvation and an oft quickly dismissed piece of our monthly fast.

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  7. Just so you know, the church used to strongly counsel members not to utilize welfare services. That has changed. I wouldn't feel one iota of guilt about accepting WIC. You are feeding your family and that is the most important. But I do want to point out that in your situation, there should be no shame in going to the bishop to ask for assistance.

    With that out of the way, thank you for this post. We are currently also working hard to keep in our budget. My husband has a good job, but the high cost of rent in our area has stretched us to the limit. I know the feeling of the food budget being the only area that has any flexibility. I know what it is like to count every penny, scour the food ads and make up menus.

    I have found that somehow we always make it through. My children always have enough to eat, money to pay my bills, and we've been warm.

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  8. Thank you, Michelle.

    anonymous #1, that's kind of you to give up your card, even though I'm sure you could us it for something.

    anonymous #2, I'm sorry for what you are going through. Even when you know that money does not solve life's problems, the lack of it makes you wonder about the truth of that sentiment. Finances literally control every decision, and it is incredibly wearing. I hope things get better for you soon.

    rebekah, you bring up some interesting points. I can't tell you how many times my husband has regretted his initial decision to major in music education. He feels that he would be in a better position to provide if he had chosen something different, and that is a heavy burden for him. But those years blessed our lives in intangible ways, and he had a positive influence on literally hundreds of young people. When you are young and hopeful (and perhaps a little naive), the decision to major in less a lucrative field does not seem threatening. I've also wished for myself that I majored in a more marketable skill. But I recognize the value of education, even in fields that earn less. Another reality is, diversity is critical to economic markets. If students only enrolled in classes for careers that have been labeled as "marketable," it would create other problems.

    Thanks for your kindness, Justine. There is a lot of shame inherent in being poor and needing help. We did not ask for help from the church; it felt more anonymous to apply for WIC and lunch programs. Maybe we were still being prideful in not wanting our neighbors to know–I'm not sure. I wondered if we should stop paying fast offerings, but we did not. There is something powerful about finding something to give.

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  9. The Church programs are there for a reason and the State and Government plans are there for a reason (though most often horribly abused). The Lord knows who we are and what we are going through. And He knows that we all need help and assistance through times of hardship. That is why the programs were set up. To assist those in times of hardship. It isn't meant to function as your regular grocery store, but as a supplement during trying times.

    In regards to "how it works" is those who struggle see their bishop and they work through the financial issues that are plaguing the family. Oftentimes the family is asked to bring in their bills and statements for review and help with financial planning. Then when they are "approved" for assistance, the RS takes stock of the house and makes note of what is needed, then they place the order with the bishop who then places the order at the bishop's storehouse. The family is then accompanied to the storehouse with either the RS president or a member of the bishopric to obtain their groceries. But it does need to be noted that this form of Church welfare is meant to only help in times of need, not every week/month. For those who are regular "abusers" of this program, they are refused assistance after about 6 months, or as determined by the bishop. This is only done to help teach the member self-sufficency. If you continue to need assistance after 6 months, then there are deeper problems that need to be addressed.

    I personally don't think that it is wrong to take assistance where it is possible to get it…when you are in need and qualify. Just use the resources that you have been given wisely. That includes the meager grocery budget and any coupons/food stamps that are made available to you.

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  10. Thank you for this. The writing is beautiful, and the questions thought-provoking.

    For me, this fall under the scope of continuing revelation. At the time the talk was given, the Church's perspective was to strongly discourage members from using government programs. I think the Church still promotes self-reliance and education and food storage, doing as much for ourselves as we can. But there is not a current explicit discouraging of government programs, only counsel to be self-reliant.

    In my own family, our financial circumstances don't allow us to provide for all the health care expenses needed for DH's father. We are deeply grateful for the disability program. I have no idea how we would manage without it.

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  11. Leslie, I think you're right.

    Thanks for your thoughts Tiffany. There are so many people tightening up right now, and it helps to not feel alone.

    Judy, the welfare system is administered by local leaders who assess the needs. We could have gone to our bishop and asked to have a food order from the storehouse. Many times when people do that, the bishop asks that they work in the cannery or do some other service.

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  12. I'm always a little alarmed that people assume welfare abuse is rampant. What do you consider to be abuse? Is it abuse when you qualify for free school lunches and take them but aren't in dire straights? Is it abuse when you qualify for and take unemployment payments even through you're not yet struggling, but know that you will be soon? What constitutes abuse? How can we have more compassion for those who use these services because they need them?

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  13. I sustain President benson, but that comment? I think it's completely lacking in mercy. I guess he was never unemployed. As someone who has had to rely on school lunches in the past, I haven't wanted to appeal to the government to take care of me and my children one second longer than necessary.

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  14. This post really hits home–we've realized that we need to have my husband look for a job right now and it's so stressful. We also moved to a more expensive area about six months ago and are feeling the strain. That's actually been most of our marriage, since we've been in school for the last seven years. And yes, it's hard to balance the need for education with the need to provide for a family and to develop your talents. I think it's sad that the world is becoming a place where those who have talents in things like teaching cannot support their families. The world will be a sad place if we only have businessmen and lawyers because those are the only jobs that pay enough to live on. Anyways, I relate to a lot of the things in this post. The only way we make our food budget work lately is by cutting out meat entirely. Anyways, I just got the March Ensign yesterday and it has a lot of great stuff on self-reliance. I've been looking for ways to rely more on the Lord by asking in prayer and doing my part to use what resources I have wisely. Prayer is always important–I've felt that at times in my life WIC has actually been an answer to prayer. Other times I've been lead to the thrift store and actually found brand-new coats for my kids–but one time we were actually prompted to go to Ikea where we found the dresser we needed on clearance. The Lord works in mysterious ways, but I think the most important lessons we are to learn here deal with humility and gratitude.

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  15. Nancy, I agree that not judging others is critical.

    That was a tough quote for me too, Jennie. But I realize where he was coming from and I know the Lord is merciful.

    Amen, FoxyJ. There are many ways we are blessed.

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  16. Such a personal story you have shared with us today, but with the economy as it is, one that is very timely.

    I believe that each individual case of need is just that- individual. Each person who may require the help of another to engage in self-sufficient living is so varied and diverse that it is hard to lump an exact answer to the question that you posed.

    Having been a past Relief Society president and having dealt with welfare issues in our ward, I have observed an interesting pattern develop with most (not all, remember each is an individual situation) who rely on assistance for any length of time. It is very recognizable and those who have observed it will know what I am talking about.

    When a person is truly in need they are extremely humble about their situation in the beginning. For example, when filling out a food order, they request the absolute minimum to meet their needs and feel "guilty" as you have described your situation with the WIC coupons. As time progresses however, and if not supervised in the proper way… it suddenly becomes a RIGHT of entitlement to the receiver. I have seen it progress to the point where the receiver was supplying the needs of the day care center the receiver was running in her home while charging the parents for food and pocketing the money, to stock piling the food so much that they were starting a food storage program with the food assistance they received from the church. I have seen one case in which the family was solely on assistance for over twenty years, unwilling to try and improve their lot. This was all because the assistance was not given in the Lord's way.

    One of the differences between the church system and the system of the government is the fact that in the church system you have the opportunity to "pay back" or "earn" the goods you receive by providing a service or working for it. This can be as simple as working at the cannery to cleaning the church each week after the services are over. When the assistance is issued in the way the Lord has organized and done so with proper stewardship, it provides an opportunity for the individual to feel good about themselves as a productive individual and worthy of the help they are given. It is not a system of a "dole" or a "handout" as President Benson was probably referring to, where the self worth of the receiver is at stake.

    So, to answer the question you have posed at the end of your post I would suggest reading the handbook of instruction for the church titled, "Providing the Lord's Way". IMHO it gives the most enlightening and inspired answer for the question you seek. I believe every member of the church should read this information. It is one of the best ways to comprehend the steps that will need to be taken to eventually live the Law of Consecration, other than the scriptures themselves.

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  17. For what it's worth, governmental welfare programs have changed considerably during the last 20-30 years since that talk. I think it's important to keep that in mind when reading older commentary on welfare programs–not that we should completely rely on others to save us, but the government doesn't just hand out cash to people anymore either. I think it's tricky because much of the assistance that most people I know use comes in the form of programs like WIC or insurance for children, and those are pretty useful programs in my opinion.

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  18. Your story hit close to home for me. I haven't gone through quite the same stresses as you and your husband, but when I was in high school my dad was laid off. It took him 2 years to find full time employment again. During that time, our family of 8 relied on food stamps and went without health insurance. At one point my parents couldn't pay rent and asked the bishop for help. The bishop paid the rent that month, but not without giving my mom a lecture on self reliance that sent her home in tears. He later felt bad about it and sent over a pie to apologize.

    I am sensitive about people who are certain that welfare abuse is "rampant." I doubt they have ever been unemployed with a family to feed. It's a strange culture we have in the church that on one hand values service and helping the poor, and on the other condemns those who accept assistance, especially if it's coming from the government.

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  19. We were reading D&C 24 yesterday and noticed verse 9 directed to Joseph Smith "And in temporal labors thou shalt not have strength, for this is not thy calling." It's kind of a "sorry, friend, but you're always going to struggle financially."

    My husband loves to remind me that obedience in a certain area doesn't always lead to blessings in that same realm. For example– the teenager that leaves a party where the kids are watching a raunchy movie probably isn't going to be blessed with a posse of friends. Those blessings will come elsewhere and quietly.

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  20. I agree with those that caution against taking this council to be as relevant as the current council. IMO, here is an instance where Pres. Benson's politics influenced his religion. And shouldn't it be the other way around?

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  21. I agree that with the others that it's those who abuse the system who have some changes to make. In Germany, so much is provided to those without jobs that some people don't even try to get work!

    Your writing is beautiful and honest. I'm glad you made it. If you still feel like you wish you'd studied some other things, BYU has amazing online independent study classes.

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  22. I've come to view Pres. Benson's words as a tool to help understand why some people feel the way they do, particularly older people who heard the counsel when it was "current." The Church's position on government welfare, as well as many other topics, has definitely evolved over the years. It's one of the blessings of continuing revelation.

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  23. Once again I am humbled and reminded to be thankful for all that I have. In this life it's so very easy for me to be swept under by my own tide of "troubles". Really though, I am fortunate. I have nothing to be unhappy about. What a well done post. Thank you for sharing. May you continue to see what is good around you and recieve it also. 🙂

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  24. Michelle – I lived in the UK, a Welfare State, for eight years and yes, there are some people who make no effort to support themselves and live off of welfare for years and years. In these cases, it is the government's job to cut them off and make/help them find work. We don't generally make big changes in our lives without some kind of kick in the butt. But I feel that we need more compassion for all of those people who receive assistance and are trying to get back on their feet.

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  25. I am surprised (well, not really I guess) to hear of people running out of money in hard times and then as a last resort having to turn to their bishop to pay their rent. If you know you are in financial trouble, please go to your bishop before things get so bad! Get food orders from the storehouse and save your money to pay rent and other bills. It may not be the food you are used to eating, but it is good food. I often go to the storehouse to pick up food orders for a lady who is too ill to go herself. Food from the bishop's storehouse is meant to be used. It is not deducted from your ward's fast offerings like paying someone's bills is.

    Speaking fast offerings, they are meant to be used too, at the discretion of the bishop. We bear one another burdens.

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  26. I am amending my statement. If you know you are going to be in financial trouble, first you should ask your family members for help. After that, as a secondary option, you should ask your bishop for help from the church.

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  27. I have absolutely NO problem whatsoever providing assistance to those who "temporarily" need help.

    But I'm going to have to disagree with most of you on here. How many welfare moms do you know, really?

    I'll tell you how many I know: LOTS. Let's start with my sister the welfare queen. She gets 3x my grocery budget on her foodstamps card (for the same size family) and has so much extra she sells them for cash (a felony). Over the past 4 years she is unable to hold a full-time job, she has made the same amount in those four years as I did last year part-time working for grocery $ (abt $5k). The only reason she started taking drugs is because after she split with her husband and got on welfare she only hung out with fellow friends on welfare. Half of them do pot. So now she's running around with meth-heads and in and out of jail.

    What about grad students? @ BYUI Pres. Bednar gave many talks about going through grad school. He would go full-time school and then go straight to his job to pay for groceries and rent. For carpet they went to the store for free remnants and duct-taped them together. I have a hard time with ALL grad students – in particular professional students (med school, dental school, pharmacy school, etc.) using my tax dollars to get twice the amount of groceries I do when they will have twice the amount of salary we will have for the rest of their lives. And yet it seems like they had enough $ to live off their student loans, because they are buying new cars, vans, etc. using that loan money that could go towards, perhaps their groceries and a used car.

    Even just in regular college a lot of kids were on WIC even if they had good jobs and didn't need it. Or they signed up for Gov't subsidized housing — and turned down any job offers they received so they wouldn't lose their discount. Then they went and got satellite TV. (Seriously gov't subsidized rentals have a higher ration of satellites on their units than anywhere else in Rexburg).

    So yes, I have a hard time with a lot of people on gov't assistance when the middle class who doesn't qualify lives on less. Our milk budget is lucky to last 3 weeks. When it's gone, it's gone. Have to wait til the start of the month.

    Also another thing that Bednar taught us when choosing a major we are forsaking our responsibilities if we "just" choose something we love that cannot provide for your family. He said your first priority is to provide for yourself and your family — your second priority is to do something you love. Find the best possible mix of those two that you can. Because of his counsel my good friend changed his major from music to CIS w/a minor in music. That way he could be an expert in the technology used in music, yet still always work in the music field.

    What about the "free lunch at the parks" program? Does your city have this federal program? Just bring your kid to the park 5 days a week and they'll feed them for free. It's the most despicable handout ever created. 99.9% of mothers bringing their kids to free lunch CAN AFFORD to feed their kids a PB&J w/milk. The ones who can't afford it can qualify for WIC and foodstamps. So why are we spending tax $ to feed people who don't need it? Could they just give the kids who qualify for free/reduced lunches IDs so only the ones in need get free lunches? Sure, but they don't want to embarrass those kids!! So

    Well, it's part of the game. My whole life I grew up on free or reduced lunches because my father either made less than $30k w/six kids or he was unemployed. The bishop was the one that came to our house and forced them to accept help. So I've been that kid, and I had no shame accepting help when I needed it.

    BUT IF YOU DON'T NEED IT, DON'T USE IT. IT'S WEAKNESS OF CHARACTER TO TAKE SOMETHING FREE JUST BECAUSE IT'S THERE. It's the opposite of self-reliance. I have heard modern counsel say that if you need financial assistance: first go to family for help, second to your bishop, and last to the government.

    That being said in December we did have to go to our bishop and ask for help when our foster kids were unexpectedly left in our home for Christmas instead of with their parents. We had to ask for help and now I pay $10 extra in FO pay off my debt.

    So I want to conclude that I am NOT against people getting help if they truly are humble and NEED help. Of course that determination will be different for everyone, and I see no problem with the author's story at all. Y'all need help and ya got it. Then you got off.

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  28. I am very grateful that s-chip and other programs exist for those in need. I am very wary of young LDS families who use such programs AND buy houses and take vacations and upgrade their cars at the same time. I would guess that many single-income households technically do qualify for WIC, but if your household budget can withstand weeks off work to visit family in other states or vacations, I think it is probably best to think twice. I do not think that the OP had this issue, but I sure see it alot in my area. (Speaking as a woman who specifically went to work to secure health insurance for her family).

    Also, I wonder, if it was the men who were feeling the shame of using the WIC coupons, might they decide that that teaching job wasn't so bad after all? I really can't imagine taking my families income down to such an extent without significant savings or secured jobs to at least maintain. Following my mojo is just not worth stressing my spouse who has to make the budget work.

    One of my friends used to scrimp and save to buy herself a new bra and then her husband came home one evening with a new truck!!!! She was so steamed she made him do all the shopping for years after that so HE could feel the strain of it. I think he learned that lesson.

    So, as long as were are modest in other expenditures, I think temporary assistance can be used entirely appropriately. I do think, though, that many LDS families completely overlook a major resource: Mom. There is lots of room for 2 incomes and it seems a better option to HEAP.

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  29. When it was just me, hubby and first child, we both worked, and our little girl still qualified for CHIP. When my hubby got an infection in his foot that landed him in the hospital for almost a week, and then had to keep off of it for a month, I found myself meekly accepting a form from the Bishop to visit the storehouse. That first visit was so humiliating for me, having been raised in a household where the father was able to provide for his family and learning to despise those on welfare, especially when the person helping to fill my order was a member of my ward. I felt two inches high, and yet this sister treated me as if I had nothing to be ashamed of.

    Fast offerings took on new meaning for me. I agree that no one should abuse the help that is available, but I am less quick to judge those that accept that help. The Lord knows what is in each of our hearts. He alone is worthy to judge us.

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  30. First, thank you for sharing your experiences and feelings with us. Truly, an uplifting and beautiful post.
    Second, I am more than a little bothered by the vituperative comments re:Pres. Benson's council. Whether you agree with him or not, you have the right to personal revelation as to the truthfulness of what was said by a living prophet, which should be accessed before publically dissing him. He is/was the prophet, and it has been my experience that those who criticize the leadership of the church have deeper problems with their testimonies.
    Third, we were in desperate straits due to 3 of our children having mental illnesses which required hospitalizations for all 3 in a 6 month time period. Our bishop came to us and urged us to take some help from the church. He is a very prayerful man, and was inspired to ask certain questions, the answers of which we would not have volunteered.
    And last, but not least, in regards to "abusing the system", our 18 yr. old moved out because he did not want to obey our rules (go to church/mutual, go to school,help around the house, let someone know if you will be late). I got a letter last month informing me that he has been given cash, food stamps, and medical coupons, none of which are necessary for him. He has a home, now lives with a friend's family,doesn't work, won't go to school, etc. So yes, I think he is abusing the system. I have turned him in for welfare fraud. And will not be notified re: the outcome of the investigation.
    So, as others have said, there is a "chain of command" that needs to be followed when there are temporal needs to be met. I don't have a problem with helping in times of need, as long as the recipient is doing everything possible to alleviate their situation. And prayer and personal revelation are important tools that should be used frequently and regularly.

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  31. I hope I'm not misunderstood when I say that I find myself feeling sad that you didn't let your ward help you. Had I been in your ward, I would have *wanted* to help you! Had I been in a position to do so, I would have increased my fast offerings just for your family.

    Even without knowing particular situations, when we can, we try to do a little more into fast offerings exactly for the purpose of helping families in situations like yours. I imagine it would be SO hard to ask, but to me, that is what it is there for. We are supposed to help each other, and the church's welfare system is there for that reason.

    My understanding of the welfare principles is to provide for self as much as possible, then to go to family, then to the Church. I would see govt support as the next step after that.

    This has caused me to go back and read a little about the concept of welfare principles, and I think there is a lot there…and that we shouldn't be afraid of asking for help. Also, the church's welfare program expects something in return, which I think is designed not only to prevent people from taking advantage of a system, but also to preserve some measure of dignity — that people continue to work for their own self-reliance.

    Reading through Pres. Benson's talk also helps me understand more of his comment in context. I know how it feels to hear smoething that feels like it's condemning you, so had I been in the same situation, I would have likely felt the same way.

    But speaking generally, and not specifically, I think we ought to be careful about condemning or criticizing or judging Pres. Benson too much. Or even saying that his comments are all outdated. I actually think he brings up some really important points, not the least of which that compulsory charity (welfare help through taxes) is not real charity because it is not something given by choice and with heart. It is mandated by government. Also, those who receive government help are not expected to do anything in return, which also in a sense violates gospel principles of welfare that consider both giver and receiver and how to help both.

    I think it's important to understand how God wants welfare and help to the poor to work, and then understand how the govt system is less than ideal. And that to me is some of what Pres. Benson was teaching. And I think these are important things to consider at this crazy time in our economy.

    Does that mean I am against people getting help? No. Does that mean the only way to help is through the Church system? No. The First Presidency, for example, just asked us to help with food banks. (But again, that is a voluntary thing, not compulsory.)

    Anyway, I think Pres. Benson has some stuff worth pondering, not only about welfare principles, but about how much govt control is too much. Good questions to ask at a time like this, imo.

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  32. o had I been in the same situation, I would have likely felt the same way.

    And what I meant is that his words likely would have stung. I tend to take counsel pretty hard, and worry so much about doing what is right. I hear the same in the author's words here.

    But I will say again that I think Pres. Benson's words in general deserve some consideration and respect…not just through the author's eyes (which understandably included pain and questions), but standing on their own and considered in context.

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  33. hmm, I didn't see the prior comments as being critical of Pres. Benson– the author certainly didn't criticize him and the other commenters simply mentioned that the Welfare system has changed. Our guest really put herself on the line for this post and I want to respect that.

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  34. m&m, I appreciate what you've said about Pres. Benson's counsel. I tend to be sensitive, and those particular words hurt, which is why I remenber them so clearly. But I've found that any time a prophet's words are painful, whether its Old Testament, 1977, or now, it is an invitation to do some soul searching. Reading the text of the talk (most of which I missed when it came on TV that day) helped me understand his approach to welfare, and frankly clarified some of the differences between consecration and socialism that I have wondered about. Pres. Benson's words tend to be politically polarizing, especially when taken out of context, and I apologize if the original post contributed to that type of feeling. While the Church's rhetoric has softened and the approach has changed, I think the fundamental principles remain the same.

    I also want to clarify that we did have some family help during this difficult period. The reasons we did not ask for help from the ward were complex and emotional. We may have acted incorrectly by taking government help first, but that's what felt best for us.

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  35. One thing I love about your response in these comments is the what you just said, "any time a prophet's words are painful, it is an invitation to do some soul searching." That is so true. I think the original post was an honest, heartfelt soul-search. Thank you.

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  36. I also want to add my respect for your sharing of this topic, in such an honest and thoughtful way. It requires courage to talk about our own challenges and struggles and even more so to talk about coming to understand counsel that was difficult to hear and understand. I love your line above about the need for soul searching- the best take home thought of the day! That is a sign of humilty- too often when counsel leaves someone raw they place themselves above it or walk away. I think this topic is certianly charged for many people because of their own experiences. I appreciate that our gospel is one of charity, giving, compassion, mercy, and self reliance.

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  37. I hope what I've said re Pres. Benson makes sense. I believe that prophets provide eternal perspective while also reflecting the time in which they live. All prophetic counsel invites us to discover the unchanging principles that undergird the words while still understanding the context of when the words were spoken. With the blessing of modern prophets comes the susceptibility of clinging to ideas that resonate with us, even if they were spoken a generation ago. That's why a living prophet and continuing revelation are so important.

    I worry sometimes that I will be quoting Pres. Hinckley's thirty years from now. 🙂

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  38. I think financial trials are some of the hardest. I guess because the world is so expensive. Why does it cost so much to eat? To heat the house? Just to survive? We've been in the midst of some financial trials due to my husband trying to start his own business a few years back. After that failed, we are spending years cleaning up the mess. Mostly credit card mess. It has really put a strain on our family. I feel like I have a sack of rocks on my shoulders all the time. But I suppose there is always something to be learned from this hardship. Thanks for sharing your story. For some reason I find it comforting to know that other people have had similar struggles.

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  39. I really, really appreciated the openness on this post, and I'm sorry if my comment came across as dismissing it or insensitive in any way. That wasn't my intention.

    I appreciate your kind and thoughtful responses, and agree with what you have said — from the element of finding underlying principles that remain the same (basically what I was trying to explore a bit) and also that the rhetoric has softened. I also agree about the soul-searching, but that also, at least for me, sometimes has to be tempered with recognition that God really does accept our best efforts. Ideals and principles are there as guideposts, not daggers to hurt ourselves with if we really have given our heart to doing our best. And it felt to me that that was what you did in your circumstance. Part of why I said what I said is because I will sometimes beat myself up over and over again with an ideal, rather than consider that God's mercy might be enough to cover my weakness that is part of my mortal-ness…even when I am doing my best. And sometimes I focus on one thing that sticks out rather than seeing a bigger picture. And so I sympathized with how his words felt to you (and like I said, I probably would have felt the same way), but in context, his words felt softer, more understandable based on what he was saying.

    And I was fascinated to consider more about the differences between govt and church welfare. Those general principles helped bring some clarity to me.

    Again, my apologies if my comment was hurtful to you in any way. Bless you for your willingness to share this story. It was powerful and touching and timely.

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  40. No worries, m&m. I didn't feel hurt by your comments at all. Discussions like this are so valuable, even though there is a risk of misunderstanding or hurt feelings. Most of the time, the varied perspectives on one topic provide so much insight.

    My hope in writing this post was that those who have experienced similar difficulties would not feel alone, and that those who have not walked this road might have a glimpse into what it is like. I so appreciate all of the comments.

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  41. The reasons we did not ask for help from the ward were complex and emotional. We may have acted incorrectly by taking government help first, but that’s what felt best for us.

    I was so focused on responding to the possibility that I may have been misunderstood that I didn't even see this. What else can you say, and what else could you have done but what you felt was best?

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  42. m&m, I don't know about this situation, but when some close relatives of mine asked for help on one occasion, they were very wounded to discover that confidentiality had been violated and more people knew about their problems than should have known. It was most awkward. On another occasion, they heard complaints about "those people on welfare" or gossip about people who needed help. Attitudes and comments like that make it very, very difficult to ask for help. If you know the people in a position to help will not keep confidences, or will look down on you, it makes asking for help extremely difficult, if not impossible.

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  43. This sounds like my family about 30 years ago as very poor graduate students with two babies. We got medical care for the children, they qualified for WIC (nourished all 4 of us) and occasionally we had to use food stamps when my seasonal part time job ended. I still remember the awkwardness of knowing the employer would get a call about my most recent wages. But we knew we were going to be working and paying taxes for a long time to come and would pay for others in the same time of need. We have good jobs now and I just paid an additional $1300 in tax due on top of what was deducted – more than paying back a few lean years where the government programs allowed us to nourish our children and to have a mother at home to nurture them. I'm so glad those programs are there for those who need help – mothers need to have some mental relief in order to dish out the love their families need.

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  44. First off, I so appreciate your honesty and openness. And your skillful writing is amazing too. Thank you for sharing this.

    I have struggled with my feelings on this issue since my early married days.

    I graduated from BYU nine weeks pregnant. My only non-government health insurance option at the time, was the BYU extended plan, which was VERY expensive. We asked a lot of people, young marrieds in our ward and neighborhood, for their advice. I was stunned by how many referred me to the government. "It's great. It is super easy to qualify and they cover everything!" I think I was less stunned by the volume of people on it (though that was stunning), and more stunned by the attitudes I personally encountered.

    At great sacrifice, I stayed on the BYU extended plan, as our attempts to find employment with benefits were not successful in the timely manner we needed. It was very very tough for us, but we were blessed to be able to make it work.

    A few years later, after moving into our first home, my husband was suddenly and unexpectedly laid off, without severance (the company did not offer severance to any of their employees). This was our second lay-off. And this time new employment did not come quickly.

    With two small children, we struggled. We did take unemployment, since so much of that is funded by the employers. It is their insurance policy for lay-offs. At least that is my understanding. We didn't take it right away, but when the time came that we felt it necessary, we made the claim.

    I went to work at nights, at a restaurant, rather than going back to teaching so I could be with our kids in the day. My husband worked days, grossly underpaid for his skills and education, as he continued to search for a position at his level. It was tough. We barely survived.

    Then on to law school, as we felt that was a better long-term solution in light of a long period of under-employment. Once again, I was amazed by the number of young LDS people, grad students this time, on government programs because it was easy.

    I do remember one particular family, who accepted some government help with medical bills. They had prayerfully considered the matter. They paid everything they could, and then allowed the government to pay the rest. I so appreciated their prayerful consideration, even though their conclusion was not the same as mine.

    I personally have not ever felt right about accepting WIC, food stamps, government health insurance, etc.

    I have researched the counsel from the brethren, though not for a few years, so if there is something super-recent, I may have missed it. I was never able to find a reference where the brethren gave a place for the government in any type of welfare assistance. The formula as I have understood (and as others have mentioned) is:

    1. self reliance
    2. reliance on family
    3. reliance on the church

    Maybe there is a place, at number four, for the government. I am still not sure on this one.

    If you have done all you can do, than it is perfectly acceptable to ask your family for help. And to ask the church for help after that. And in some cases, the government's help might be the right thing. I don't know. I particularly appreciated the comment by Inthedoghouse outlining the important of approaching welfare situations in the Lord's way.

    Now…my own confession, lest I make myself seem as if I always did things in the most proper way. There was a time when we probably should have gone to our family for help. We didn't. We used debt to see us through. Was that the Lord's way? Honestly, I don't think so. That could be a whole new slew of comments…

    I had my own reasons for not approaching my family, and though they are certainly reasonable, I could have been less prideful. Because of my testimony of the order of welfare assistance, I could never have felt comfortable asking the Bishop without having exhausted the resources in my extended family. Which were plentiful enough. Thus the debt.

    I mentioned that I had struggled with my feelings on this issue for years. I used to be so bothered that so many LDS people I knew took government money because it was easy (though clearly not all those who take it do so with that attitude). And I was bothered that I judged them. I didn't necessarily want to judge them, but I did, and it bothered me that I did.

    I am in a different place on that now. I better recognize my own failings, and judge much less than I did in my younger, more ideal and naive years.

    So what would I say to this writer in her situation? That I would assume you did the best you could under the circumstances. That you were under a lot of stress, and it was tough, and you put forth your best efforts during a tough time. We didn't come to the same conclusions in our financial struggles, but we all have different paths and I wouldn't dare judge yours. Our choices are between us and the Lord.

    For others who may be facing a financial crisis now…I will assume you are doing the best you can. And I know the Lord is mindful of you.

    Money is such a difficult topic. We are so influenced by our upbringings. There are so many contrasting views on how to spend, how to save, and what to do when there isn't enough, which can lead to friction in marriage and friendships. Money, either too much, or too little, can so easily present us with a trial of our faith.

    Bottom line, I think it is up to us to assume that people are doing the best they can and to support each other the best we can. And as we rethink our personal financial stewardships, I think we need to learn from the past (though not beating ourselves up for any mistakes we may have made), and do our best to plan for the future. We are working on this now, and it is tough!

    I apologize for my long-windedness. This post obviously hit home to many of us. Thanks for sharing.

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  45. I really liked this piece. The poor years have long since been over for us. But I needed the recollections. Such good writing…thanks!

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  46. The principle I'm trying to work at here isn't to do with money – directly, exactly. It is centered around this:

    41 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
    42 Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.

    I'm also mindful of the day when we – so to speak – take our paycheck to the Bishop and he distributes everything according to needs and wants. We can't do this yet because we are so many moral busybodys in one another's business. Everyone very concerned not with taking care of their own business but in how they _compare_ to someone else.

    There's my sermon. ~

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  47. beautiful, sensitive, timely post. Thank you.

    For me to is helpful to think of comments like those made by President Benson as goals to work for. Other worthy goals include staying our of debt, having mom at home, having large family early, building up a year's supply of food, and giving generously. All of this counsel has value, but for many young families it is just not possible to attain all of these goals immediately, especially early in marriage or in the face of medical problems or unexpected circumstances. That doesn't mean we should give up on the goals, but we should be charitable towards ourselves and others as we work towards them.

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  48. Emily,

    FWIW, I totally understand the pain and awkwardness and difficulty that could arise. I understand that we aren't at ideal principles in many ways in the Church. It makes me sad that that is the case.

    I hate asking for help in pretty much any way. I know what it's like to ask for help and to be hurt (not in this realm, but more on the emotional side of things). I think that fear/hesitation is normal, all the more so when people's responses have been less than ideal.

    Still, I think it's important to consider the principles we are taught, to have them on the table in a discussion like this, and then go from there, realizing that specific situations and personal revelation may differ.

    (As a general comment, I feel at times like I have to tiptoe with my thoughts that are sometimes focused on considering the basic principles that we are taught. Please know that I recognize that there are exceptions and tensions and individual circumstances and personal pain and even different opinions or interpretations along the way, and my intent is never to offend or add to the pain. But I think we can be sensitive to individual circumstances and feelings AND talk about our understanding of the general principles, too.)

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  49. I love this piece. It requires so much humility to open up about hard times. I recently spoke with a friend who had just gone on food stamps and she was so humbled to do so. But I have never been filled with so much Christ-like love for another person as while I spoke with her. I could just feel how much Heavenly Father loved her and wanted her and her family to feel that love.

    My husband and I living paycheck to paycheck right now. But thankfully, there are no kids, and hopefully no kids on the way(!). There are moments where it seems like there is no way we are going to make it. He is going to be laid off next month. And with the economy where it is and being foreigners here, no job leads have come up. But somehow, every time we redo the expenses and try to figure out what we can cut out, we find little accounting mistakes that work out in our favor. I don't know how it works. But those moments are the miracles in our lives. And we have never once had to go hungry, though soup and spaghetti have, at times, gotten a little old.

    The principle of self-sufficiency and independence always hold true. If necessary, families might need to move to a smaller home, live less extravagantly, and just cut costs all around to make things fit. But, as far as accepting help, the church has a welfare system that members are to use when in need. I see it no differently than the government's welfare system. When we need help, it might be necessary to seek it out from the church or the government. But the opposite holds true as well. We have an obligation to give what we can to others when we are in a better position to do so.

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  50. Take with this with a grain of salt: My husband attended a training here in Arizona with a spokesperson from the Church welfare department. The spokesperson said that the church's policies had changed and they do not discourage people from getting government help when needed. I'm sure if I did the research I could find something more concrete than that.

    Anyhow, sometimes I wonder if the church can answer all our finacial woes. Like health insurance. The church doesn't do health insurance. When someone is unemployed and can't get health insurance. Should they just go without? One visit to the ER can add up to thousands of dollars. Medical expenses can be one of the most stressful things. And not having heatlth insurance often leads people to ignore medical issues they are having and put their health at risk.

    I get that we should all be self sufficient as much as possible. But what about when you temporarily hit hard times, isn't it nice that there are programs out there to help us? Why is it so looked down on to benefit from them sometimes? When things are going normally we all pay into the programs anyway. Obviously some people mooch off the system but I don't think that is what we are talking about here.

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  51. Ouch. Having married an entrepreneur and owning several businesses throughout our marriage, I have been required to get on WIC in the past (and my children's births have all been covered by medicaid). I remember blushing not just the first time I handed the cashier the wic check, but the fifth and twelfth time as well. I often had to tell myself that my husband worked as hard as just about anybody I know-between 50-90 hours a week. Plus, he took pride in providing employment for people in our community. Getting to the point where all of your money isn't going back into the business…or even being able to shoulder the burden of your family and employees healthcare…has taken many many years of hard work.

    I'd like to think that God still loves us even if we need help sometimes. And especially showing love to those that need a lift. I love King Benjamin's address in the Book of Mormon where he asks: Are we not all beggars? And also where he importunes us to not only fill the needs of the beggar, but his wants as well.

    I'm not saying some of these programs do not have flaws, but often we err on the side of judging instead of compassion.

    Thanks for a great post.

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  52. heathermommy, I have been to similar trainings to the one you describe. Here is what I've learned: The Church focuses on two types of welfare.
    – "Needy": those who are able to work, educated, desire to work, etc., but who have fallen on hard times and need some temporary assistance.
    – "Poor": this was a new definition for me, but someone is "poor" when their attitudes and belief about work, education, and self-reliance are not where they need to be. Helping the poor is often a long-term goal because it involves changing attitudes and beliefs.

    Helping the poor and needy is not looked down on, it is encouraged. Bishops have a specific charge to seek out the poor and needy, and not simply to wait until someone comes to them.

    Speaking personally, I know that the Church's position has changed regarding government welfare over the past several years. The Church is simply not equipped to provide long-term financial assistance to someone who is legitimately unable to provide for their own needs. While there are no doubt many on welfare who would fit that earlier definition of "poor," there are some who do not, particularly when it comes to those with serious health problems. A close relative of mine had one two-week hospital stay with a total bill of nearly a quarter-million dollars. Very few families (or wards) can help with that kind of load, especially if such bills are common occurrences.

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  53. Tamlynn,

    Just so you know, my parents didn't go to the bishop for help with rent without exhausting other resources. I mentioned my dad's unemployment lasted 2 years – after that much time, you start running out of options and maxing out credit cards. They did receive food from the Bishop's storehouse, but supplemented it with food stamps at some points. They have always been full tithe payers and the tithes and offerings they've paid before and after my dad's unemployment more than made up for their relatively brief "drain" on the system.

    Your comment: "Food from the bishop’s storehouse is meant to be used. It is not deducted from your ward’s fast offerings like paying someone’s bills is" is interesting, even though you followed up with saying that using fast offerings are also meant to be used.
    I get the feeling that a lot of people in the church are OK with fast offering funds going to help tsunami victims and the like, but resent them being used by people they actually know.

    It would be great if we had no poor – we always will. It would be great if everyone had a family that could act as a financial safety net for them. Not everyone does. It would be great if the Church welfare system could meet all needs – it can't. I truly thank God that I live in a country where if the bottom totally fell out of my life, I could find help from government assistance.

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  54. i hope i didn't hurt your feelings with my comments about education. i was literally rambling about my own situation, as your post reminded me of something i've been thinking about for a long time. your point about diversity in markets has me feeling better about my own choice of a major. hopefully, at some future date, everything will come together and all of us liberal arts students will be vindicated.

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