A Conversation about Personal Welfare Needs
August 1987

“A Conversation about Personal Welfare Needs,” Ensign, Aug. 1987, 77–78

A Conversation about Personal Welfare Needs

Many families and individuals are struggling financially these days. When jobs and money become scarce, members in need often turn to Church welfare for help. To find out what kind of counsel the Church offers those who may be facing serious economic problems, the Ensign spoke with Frank Richardson, manager of ecclesiastical leader training in the Welfare Services Department.

Q: What is the position of the Church on financial need?

A: Since its beginnings, the Church has stressed self-sufficiency and family preparedness. Brigham Young, for example, counseled the Saints as they came into the Salt Lake Valley to prepare for the winters. He told them to be thorough about harvesting their crops, to glean the fields fully, and to be careful about wasting resources. All that is part of our heritage.

Q: Today, how does the Church counsel us to prepare?

A: Beginning in about 1975, and specifically through the message of the current Welfare Services Resource Handbook, the notion of personal and family preparedness has been emphasized.

There are six primary areas of family preparedness: literacy and education; career development; time and resource management; home production and storage; physical health; and social, emotional, and spiritual strength.

Emphasizing these six areas has helped draw attention to the notion of preparedness. Unfortunately, preparedness has been narrowly interpreted to mean preparing for a future emergency. So people are attempting to store their year’s supply of food, put away additional clothing, and make 72-hour kits. That element of personal and family preparedness has tended to become the core element, and has obscured other important elements.

Q: Such as?

A: Such as wise financial management. For example, it isn’t unusual to find an LDS family who have the better part of a year’s food supply stored away, but who have at the same time become heavily indebted for the purchase of an automobile, a camper, new furniture, and related items.

If family members lose their jobs, or simply have their debts overcome them, they find themselves in a desperate situation.

Q: How many people can manage to save the kind of money to pay cash for a car?

A: This is one reason we’ve refocused our training. What has been overlooked is learning to manage money wisely—to be thrifty, to purchase things on sale, and to avoid debt where feasible. Consequently, today there is a significant problem with indebtedness.

Saving for planned expenditures is important. A person who is living providently will begin putting money away to help in the day he or she needs to make a major purchase. This way, when the day of purchase arrives, it won’t be necessary to borrow the full amount, and it may be possible to pay for the item in full without going in debt.

President Benson’s article, “Pay Thy Debt, and Live,” which appeared in the June 1987 Ensign, is an example of how seriously the Church is concerned about the impact of indebtedness in members’ lives.

Q: How do we refocus in order to help members anticipate need in their lives?

A: During the last year, the Church reviewed what had been accomplished in welfare since the current welfare program was initiated in 1936. The decision was then made to begin focusing on the basic principles of welfare—few enough that every member could keep them in mind.

An important goal for members to strive toward is self-reliance. Three guidelines will help members achieve this goal.

First, each member needs to work to the extent of his abilities to care for self and family. This is in the spirit of 1 Timothy 5:8: “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” [1 Tim. 5:8] It is our responsibility—not the Church’s—to care for ourselves and our families.

Second, self-reliant members live providently. They practice thrift, care for their possessions, save for planned purchases, and produce a portion of what they use.

Avoiding debt where feasible is the crux of the challenge. We have been advised to avoid unwise debt as we would avoid the plague. We can’t be unwise today and overcommit ourselves with debts that we won’t be able to manage, thinking that if things go wrong we can turn to the Church tomorrow. We are responsible for our choices.

Third, self-reliant members prepare for future emergencies. They have insurance, maintain health and physical fitness, and acquire first aid and other health skills. This is where the year’s food supply and emergency savings should play their part.

While emergency preparedness has long been spotlighted, now we’re trying to bolster the principles of self-reliance. We are each responsible for ourselves.

Related to self-reliance is the principle of generous giving. We don’t want to overlook others. Preventing need is both a matter of being self-reliant and giving generously to others. Give a generous fast offering and perform compassionate service.

Q: How is the Church trying to teach the principles of self-reliance?

A: Each of these themes have been covered in conference talks, and we recently released a training package for bishops about caring for the needy.

Currently, the Church is revising all of the welfare-related curriculum lessons to reflect this new emphasis.

The primary responsibility for preventing problems in one’s life rests with the individual. Another concept we want to instill is that it is easier to prevent problems than it is to live with them after they develop.

People are persuaded to make choices when they begin on the road to self-reliance. The big choice is whether to be self-reliant or to depend on others. We should all ask ourselves, “Will I plan my life and try to direct its course, or am I just going to take whatever comes?”

Frank Richardson, a manager in the Welfare Services Department. (Photography by Philip S. Shurtleff.)