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Presiding Bishop Merrill J. Bateman testified March 29 before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee regarding welfare reform. He was one of six individuals on a panel who participated at the invitation of Sen. Bob Packwood of Oregon, chairman of the committee.

The hearings provided the Church a unique opportunity to highlight its welfare programs and to share the history, principles and lessons learned while establishing these programs.Bishop Bateman explained to the committee that Church members have always been encouraged to care for one another. However, he noted, during the Depression in the mid-1930s the unemployment rate among members was about 25 percent, and it became evident to Church leaders that a more formal program was needed.

Bishop Bateman told the committee, "Leaders saw families not only facing economic hardships, but spiritual deterioration because of the relationship between economic well-being and spiritual well-being."

With this in mind, Church leaders turned to basic principles inherent in the religion to establish the Church welfare program, he said.

Bishop Bateman shared specific principles the Church used as a foundation for the programs. He noted: "A society that does not promote thrift, industry, work, jobs, self-reliance and provident living will not be able to take care of its average citizen, let alone those who are disadvantaged."

He also told the committee that Church leaders realized "a society that borrowed from the future to pay for today's costs would eventually pass on to its children and grandchildren financial bondage." He noted that it is from these and other basic principles the Church welfare programs evolved.

Bishop Bateman also pointed out to the committee the need for strong families, fathers in the home, and the need to teach and uphold strong moral values. He said, "A society that eliminates most of its moral sanctions and agrees to pay for the results not only faces moral bankruptcy, but also economic ruin."

During his testimony, Bishop Bateman described the breadth of various Church welfare operations. He noted the Church owns farms and food processing facilities, and that through the fast offering program enough funds were collected to assist about 150,000 families in 1994. The Church also operates about 100 employment centers across the United States and placed some 35,000 people in jobs. In addition, the Church has work shelters that were established to provide employment for those who are disadvantaged mentally or physically. He told the committee: "Last year we placed in positions 1,500 people who are considered totally unemployable. After 12 months, 85 percent of them are still working."

Bishop Bateman also testified that non-members are also assisted as the Church donates commodities and funds to assist in various areas. He said, "In the last 10 years we have had 1,200 projects in 114 countries, ranging from water projects to bring potable water to villages in Africa to poultry projects in Asia, to various projects in South America."

The panel provided an opportunity for Bishop Bateman to explain some of the unique characteristics of the Church's welfare program. He stated that 90-95 percent of the welfare efforts are run at the local level with funds gathered and needs assessed by the bishop assisted by the Relief Society president.

He also noted that the Church sets aside strategic reserves of commodities and cash for use in hard times and encourages its members to do the same. He said the welfare system "is getting stronger and stronger as time goes on in terms of facilities and resources with which to work. The people themselves are becoming stronger in terms of their commitment, I believe, to their donations. They not only donate money, they donate time."

To summarize, Bishop Bateman suggested the following are essential elements of a successful welfare program:

- The welfare system works best when administered close to the people.

- Welfare aid should be temporary.

- Where people can, they should work in exchange for help received.

- Voluntarism will increase if the local community senses and assumes more responsibility for welfare problems.

- Welfare aid should not be an entitlement, but should be supplemental to individual and family resources.

At the conclusion of Bishop Bateman's testimony, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was serving as acting chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said, "Bishop Bateman, it has been a great honor to have you. I am deeply impressed by what you have said."