Devyn at Mormon Mentality has a post asking something that gets a fair amount of airtime around the LDS blogs: Married Mormon Graduate Students On Welfare – Is It Right? As seems to happen quite a lot when this issue arises, there are some commenters slinging around some pretty heavy (and silly) condemnations. For some reason all the WordPress blogs, including this one and that one, decided today that I’m a spammer, so I can’t respond to the arguments being made there, so I’ll do it here. I refuse to be silenced by the iron Akismet fist.
The sentences in italics are paraphrases of some of the ideas that have been put forward by various commenters.
Programs like WIC and Medical Assistance were not designed for graduate students who will be making a decent living in a few years. They are for the truly poor.
This is not true. You may wish that the programs were only designed for people who you feel deserve them, but they are designed for the people that qualify for them. That’s how you design a benefits program: by setting the criteria by which people qualify. If the government wanted to exclude people with certain circumstances, it could do so. It could exclude married people seeking advanced degrees. But it doesn’t. If you match the criteria, the program is designed for you.
These programs are only for people who have hard times because of unforseen circumstances. One should not plan on using them.
Again, who the programs are for is determined by who qualifies for them. Maybe you think that there shouldn’t be programs that help graduate students with children, which is fine. Talk to your elected representatives.
It’s not obvious to me that it’s morally wrong for people to plan on using government assistance on their way to greener financial pastures or to not wait to have kids until they can afford them without government assistance.
Before you condemn people who do this, at the very least you should understand what you are asking people who qualify for these programs to do. You want them to not use a resource that’s available to them and to not take that resource into consideration when making family planning decisions. It’s like condemning people who are strapped for cash for accepting Uncle Fred’s offer to help a little with the rent, or condemning people who decide to have kids knowing that that will mean that they’ll have to accept Uncle Fred’s offer. Sure, when it’s Uncle Sam, the offered money comes from taxes, but Joe and Sally Grad Student’s decision to use the resources offered them isn’t going to increase anybody’s taxes.
Joe and Sally’s great offense is that they take advantage of a resource that is available to them. They didn’t ask for it to be available. They didn’t behave foolishly and then go begging for help. The programs were put in place by the community through the democratic process. If you don’t think it should be available to them, fine. Again, talk to your elected community leaders. But don’t condemn them for making rational decisions.
Much of the condemnation of Joe and Sally rests on the premise that it is wrong to take government assistance when it’s not absolutely necessary and not due to bad luck. But not many people really believe this. It’s never absolutely necessary to take government subsidized student loans, for example, but everybody seems to feel OK about taking that handout (yes, it is a handout—the government pays interest so you don’t have to). People could instead work full time and go to school part time and put off child bearing until they’re completely done with education. Or they could skip higher education all together and make a decent living working their way up at Wal-Mart and put off child bearing until they reach management.
Nobody who takes government subsidized student loans has the moral authority to condemn people who decide to have children subsidized by government assistance. If you took a government subsidized loan, you took a handout that you could have done without.
But an educated person is an asset to society. So are children. Especially children who are highly likely to pay a lot of taxes over their lifetime, such as children of graduate and professional students.
But government investment in my education was just smart economics. So is government investment in the bearing of children and their subsequent health care and nutrition.
Church leaders teach that we should be self reliant. Taking government assistance is not self reliance.
Church leaders also teach that we should avoid debt, but there are times when debt is acceptable on the way to better financial circumstances. To my knowledge, Church leaders have been silent of late on the question of taking government assistance on the way to better financial circumstances. But I’d be willing to bet that some General Authorities have received government handouts and that some of their children are currently doing so. I’m not saying that that makes it right. Just that I can’t see them getting on board with condemnation of married grad students taking some government assistance on the way to better financial circumstances.
In the end, I’m agnostic on whether or not married grad students should accept government assistance if they don’t absolutely have to, or when people should have children. But I’m not agnostic on whether or not we should condemn people for the decisions they make in regards to these issues: we shouldn’t.