When we were kids, “the social worker” was a powerful person in our lives. They came to check out our house and, I guess, decide about benefits my mom would receive. We worried about being “taken away” because as bad as it was at home, it was familiar and we were together. I don’t know how much money the welfare gave my mother; I know it wasn’t a lot. She didn’t always pay the rent and we were often hungry. Periodically, we’d get boxes of “commodities” that contained food items that a more accomplished cook could have made into good meals, but my mother was a terrible cook. We ate some of it—the cheese and the blocks of processed meat—-without any preparation. We just cut pieces off and ate them. I imagine some of the food was thrown away, wasted. It seemed like Mom always had money for cigarettes, though. And she got drunk. Maybe she bummed them or other people bought her booze, but I’m convinced she could have cared for us much better than she did.

My attitude toward welfare has evolved over the years. I despised my mother’s helplessness and lack of shame in accepting this charity and using it in a shiftless manner. As an adult, while I’m far from perfect regarding financial matters, I haven’t taken charity. We’ve struggled at times, but we managed.

I was lucky. Bill always had a job. I had an inner sense of independence and a can-do attitude (that’s belied by my physical frailty…..I’ve actually moved beds and dressers upstairs all by myself, collapsed later, but I keep at it ). I had some education and skills. My first husband had a small life insurance policy and I received social security benefits, which I supplemented by working. It still wasn’t easy—I never had insurance till I married Bill when James was eight.

I live in southern Utah, a hugely conservative area of the US. I hear a lot of criticism of welfare and medicaid. I beg to differ on that. I think that when a country gets as large as America is, the job of taking care of the needy gets incredibly complicated and problematic. I also believe that a country founded on belief in God and principles of liberty has an ethical obligation to take care of its needy. I believe that a single woman with children deserves to stay home with her children to care for them and that those children should not go hungry or without shoes or medical care.

I know better than most that welfare recipients are often lacking in character and don’t always use the benefits they receive for the good of their children, but I think if our nation must err, it must err on the side of mercy. The scriptures adjure us not to judge those who we help. While reason dictates oversight, I oppose the chintzy attitude that demands the needy deserve the help they get, based on arbitrary, often emotionally set standards by those who don’t know what it’s like to go hungry.

In many ways, I’m at war with myself. The Nazi, judgemental side of me looks at a 6′ homeless man standing for hours with a sign talking about his broken back and begging for money and I think “seriously, you can stand there for hours and you can’t get a job?” I took food to a man standing by the road a few months ago, coffee and a hamburger and fries (He was grateful but said he couldn’t drink the coffee because it had sugar in it) only to see him over and over again standing by the freeway with a sign. The effort it takes to beg could be spent making hamburgers at McDonalds! Poor women who use their children, bearing children over and over again only to receive state money drive me crazy. I know poor people who decide to live in filth and ignorance.

But I know what it’s like to be a kid living in those situations (my parents used us to beg for money once on a trip across the country). I watched my daughter-in-law make less working eight hours a day than the state paid the day care worker to care for her kids. That’s crap. I watch TV shows demonstrating how well socialism works in Scandinavian countries, how happy the people are……..and I have no solid answers.

Our church’s welfare system is a wonder. I get so mad when people take advantage, though, go to church a few weeks when they need money, then go back to drinking after they get a job or get caught up. But that’s on them. Our country is large enough and rich enough to spare the poor. I’m not going to argue management or politics, but there are smart people out there who know how to make it work without turning us in the Stalin’s Russia. I can tell you that I support social policies to help the poor and if that’s socialism, so be it.