The nation's best-known conservative think tank says it has found where the nation should look for true welfare reform: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Heritage Foundation, in its journal Policy Review, said while the LDS welfare system provides material necessities, "it focuses instead on strengthening the family, teaching a vigorous work ethic and helping the needy to help themselves. Its themes are ones the secular world would do well to study."Author Tucker Carlson, assistant editor of Policy Review, added, "Mormons realize that welfare has the same properties as nitroglycerine: If utilized correctly, it can heal and sustain; if used wantonly, it will certainly destroy."
He said a sign of the LDS welfare system's success is that able-bodied people on it become independent in an average of about 100 days.
"Compare this to the federal welfare system in which half of the families . . . will remain on the dole for over 10 years. The explicit aim of Mormon welfare is to wean people from it. That it succeeds is its greatest achieve-ment," he wrote.
Carlson outlined several reasons he found why the LDS welfare system is highly successful and why government welfare is not, including:
- LDS welfare recipients work for what they receive, including working at the church's 50 canneries and 135 food production sites in the United States alone - which lowers the cost of what they receive.
"This policy is a manifestation of the Mormon understanding that people need to work to retain their dignity and that labor is good for its own sake," Carlson wrote. "Those unwilling to work are cut off from church aid; people who are drawn to the Mormon Church by the hope of a free lunch soon look elsewhere for handouts."
- Home teachers visit every church member each month, which allows financial and other problems to be discovered and corrected before they become critical.
"While some families, especially those inactive in the church, may resent what they perceive as an intrusion into their lives, this system allows those who need it to be offered aid. It also emancipates them from the indignity of asking for it," he wrote.
- The LDS welfare system is administered by local bishops, who are not paid clergy but people who are often professionals or business owners.
"The net result is a clergy that is wise in worldly matters and therefore better able to help its members in need. Mormon bishops are able to speak from experience when they plan a welfare recipient's ascent from poverty."
- Bishops tailor benefits exactly to the needs of families and give them no more than is necessary. They help them learn to budget and live on their incomes. And the church normally avoids giving cash, opting instead to provide food or to directly pay other bills itself.
- The church aggressively encourages families to take care of their own members, including elderly parents. Carlson wrote that besides saving money, that tends to bind families together.
Carlson quoted former Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services Constance Horner saying, "People in need want to be connected to family and community. The Mormon Church recognizes these ordinary human facts. Our governmental social welfare systems, which isolate those in need and reinforce dependence, do not."
- "Mormon culture retains the traditional belief that receiving charity is a humiliating last resort. This belief provides a powerful incentive for families on welfare to become independent as soon as possible," Carlson wrote.
- The church's encouragement for members to store a least a year's supply of food, clothing and fuel helps many avoid the need for welfare. "These supplies have sustained many an unemployed Mormon family," Carlson wrote. He added that church teachings of thrift and self-reliance also reduce welfare needs.
- Mormons are taught not only to take care of themselves but to give generously to others.
"Every Mormon is asked to fast for two meals on the first Sunday of every month and to give several times the value of those meals to the church welfare program. These fast offerings come in addition to the 10 percent of his income that each faithful Mormon must tithe annually," Carlson wrote.
"Utah, which is two-thirds Mormon, has the highest per-capita donations in the country. Most of this money goes to the church," enabling it to help the needy.