Mormons and The Morality of Utilizing Public Assistance
Because I’ve been thinking about the directive to not postpone families, I’ve also been thinking about the consequences of such a directive. One consequence, it seems to me, is that several young Mormon families struggle so much financially that they go on public assistance to have and support their babies.
Several years ago, I would think of these young Mormons with a lack of understanding or sympathy. I would think, ‘Why on earth did you start your family if you knew you didn’t have health insurance, if you knew you didn’t have enough money to pay for the children’s food or health care?” Being the cautious sort, I myself was not about to have babies until my late twenties, when both my husband and I had established our careers, owned a house, and had plenty of money to pay for our family.
At the time, there also seemed to me to be something slightly shameful about going on welfare. It boggled my mind that people would deliberately put themselves in a position in which they knew they would need to take advantage of such resources.
However, as I’ve grown older and grown closer with several Mormon friends who had their babies young and utilized public assistance to do so, my attitude has softened quite a bit. I’m grateful for programs that ensure the security and physical well-being of my friends and their families. I now realize that my former attitude was a product of my own privilege and my own narrow exposure to diverse ways to approach life.
But I still do have some lingering questions about Mormons and the ethics of utilizing public assistance. Is there a situation in which it is not ethical to use it? What would that situation be? And what is the Mormon leadership’s attitude about it?
A quick search on lds.org did not produce many results for the terms ‘public welfare’ or ‘public assistance.” But I did find one talk in which Marion G. Romney, (in 1980) talked about the decision in not the most flattering of terms.
“When circumstances combine to require help, it is Church doctrine that one rely upon his family for assistance. Obviously, no one should become a charge upon the public when his relatives are able to care for him.”
Other references to public assistance in General Conference and Church magazines were even more negative. The term ‘evils of a dole’ (1936) popped up a number of time in my search at lds.org, as well as references to the shame of accepting welfare from the government (1944). Interestingly, while the ‘evils of a dole’ quote comes from a 1930’s document about the establishment of the Church Welfare program, it is still quoted – though pretty rarely – in recent times. 2003 seems to be the latest.
So it appears that in the past, certain Church leaders have not looked too kindly on the idea of going on public assistance. However, the very fact that I could find almost no recent references to the topic indicate to me that perhaps GA perspectives on the matter have changed. Kids are way more expensive now. Health care is ridiculously pricey. I wonder if some GA’s understand the new reality that for many young couples to start their families, some kind of public assistance is an absolute necessity.
As for my other question about when it is or is not ethical to use public assistance, it seems clear to me that it is absolutely fine to use it when unforeseen circumstances arise that put a family in a dire situation. An unexpected pregnancy. A health problem. An unforeseen job loss. Thank goodness public assistance is there for those situations, I say.
I am less clear, however, on the ethics of using public assistance when it is a planned thing. When a young married person says, ‘I’d like to have a baby. The prophet has told me I shouldn’t postpone children because of finances. I know we have no money, but the state will pay for the birth because our income is so low, and then we’ll qualify for food stamps after that.”
Let me be up front and say that I in no way am judging anyone who has used public assistance to have and support their families. (Unlike the me of 10 years ago.) I am now a left of center person who believes in government programs to help the poor. But I am fascinated by the idea of so many young Mormons – most no doubt Republicans and in favor of limiting social services – deliberately choosing before the fact to utilize these government programs to have and support babies.
I suspect that most Mormons don’t see an ethical problem in the planned decision beforehand to take advantage of these welfare resources because:
a) they see this as a short term thing – it’s not as if they’ll be on welfare forever and bilking the system
b) they see themselves as eventually becoming upstanding tax paying members of the community, so in effect, they are just getting back a small portion of what they’ll be paying in the rest of their lives
c) all the other Mormons are doing it
d) the prophet told them to not postpone their families
I would like to know how you think about the utilization of government welfare.
-Do you think there are situations when it is less than ethical to go on it?
-Have you yourself made decisions to go on welfare, and was it at all an ethical struggle for you? Why or why not?
-What is your sense of how the Mormon leadership views the utilization of public welfare nowadays?