What Losing My Job Taught Me About the Best Sources of Social Welfare

last day at work at Church 2015

This was me on my last day at work when I voluntarily left my job of over seven years for a new job. The new job only lasted three months and I wasn’t so happy upon leaving it.

Summary:In my time of need, when I lost my job, the one institution that came to my aid was not church or government, it was the family–the program instituted by God that works phenomenally well and does so without taxes, without bureaucracy, and without compulsion. The best form of welfare comes from the family and it deserves our greatest love, devotion, protection, and strengthening. 

I wrote a draft of this article several years ago but didn’t publish it for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the freshness of some of the events. With it years in the past and with the upcoming presidential election year upon us in which there will be many debates between socialism and free market capitalism, I think it is now time to publish it.

Some years ago, I was unexpectedly fired from my job. I have heard a lot of stories over the years of people turning that kind of lemon into lemonade, and while it is my faith that all things have happened according to the goodness, mercy, and blessing of God, it was still a very difficult transition in many ways for me and my family. Thankfully, I was able to bounce back relatively quickly into the full-time work force, but during those difficult weeks of unemployment, I did learn an important lesson about to social safety nets, both public and private, that provide welfare assistance to families in need. I found there was a relationship between the proximity of the welfare to the family and the reliability and helpfulness of the welfare. Welfare from family sources was the fastest and best kind, even above and beyond the call of duty, whereas welfare from the government paid safety net was unreliable and in our case, a near complete failure.

Background of Losing My Job

In April of that year, I intentionally left my long time job at a non-profit organization. I enjoyed my work there for over seven years, but I felt that in the interest of furthering my professional career, I needed to move on. In May, I started a job with a small but growing local software company. The opportunity looked ideal, but it soon soured. My boss and I didn’t see eye to eye on many topics, and I found that some of the leadership of the company lacked integrity. I was trying my hardest to make it work, but one day, after three months on the job, I got pulled into a conference room and was let go.

I was shocked. I had never been fired in my life. I’m a hard worker, smart, well-educated, professional, non-combative, and a good team player. I never dreamed that someone would fire me, but all of a sudden I found myself in that unenviable situation. My thoughts immediately turned to concerns for the welfare of my family. What if I’m unemployed for an extended period? How will I pay my mortgage? How will I pay for food, clothes, and the other necessities of my family?

I went out to my car and I immediately called my wife. I was still in shock and near disbelief. She was angry, not at me but at the situation. To her credit, she was 100% supportive and encouraging and willing to make the sacrifices necessary to get our family through this tough situation.

#1 and Best Source of Welfare, Yourself

In our faith, the godly principles of self-reliance are taught and exemplified. The Church teaches it’s members to live prudently, save for a rainy day, be prepared for emergencies, and have a storage of food, supplies, and other needs. While not prepared as we could have or should have been, we did have a little money saved and we had a modest amount of food storage. We looked over our budget and tightened it as much as possible and given our savings, we thought we’d be able to survive for a few months on our own. There was no need to panic.

But while there was no immediate need to panic, we still knew that if the unemployment or underemployment lasted much longer than a couple of months, we knew we were in trouble and we were already worrying about what we would do then. We began to consider our options to get help through social welfare programs, government assistance, our church welfare, and so forth.

Second Best Source of Welfare, Extended Family

We knew we had family who would be willing to help us, and as soon as they found out about our situation they did just that. Without even being asked, my father, my father-in-law, and two of my brothers gave my family some money to help take care of our needs. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it helped and was enough to cover our mortgage for a month. I know if the unemployment was to continue, they would also continue to help. And as I would find out as time went on, this help from family was the only welfare that would come through, despite efforts to receive welfare assistance from Church and government sources.

Next Best Source of Welfare, The Church

I didn’t initially want to ask for assistance from my church, but a few weeks into my unemployment, after discussing the situation with trusted family and friends, they encouraged me to save what cash I had for other things and let the church give my family food assistance. It humbled me greatly to approach my local church leader and ask for that help for my family. I met with him and asked for the food assistance and said that he would be happy to help and that he would have the appropriate people in our church contact me to get the ball rolling.

A few weeks went by and we still hadn’t been contacted by the food assistance people at our church. I assume our church leader innocently dropped the ball and never made the appropriate call to get going on our welfare assistance. About a month after losing my job, I had landed a new job, paying much less than my old one, but still it was something. Therefore, we didn’t look further into the aid from our church. I’m sure we mistakenly fell through the cracks of the Church system and if we had reminded them, the arrangements for aid would have come through. Still, this is one of the reasons I put Church welfare as less reliable than family welfare sources. Though I still have complete confidence that Church welfare is better and more reliable than government welfare.

Government Welfare Failure #1: Unemployment Programs

While we like being self-sufficient and prefer utilizing private sources of welfare, we thought since we have always been tax payers, we would should look into using the government sponsored welfare programs that our tax dollars have already been paying into. The first government program I looked into was unemployment insurance. I looked up the website for my state unemployment office and after some frustrating and fruitless time there, I found a phone number and called them. I was connected with a nice woman at their office, and after answering several questions, I was informed that I did not qualify for unemployment benefits.

She said that I had been with my last employer for too short of a time (3 months) to qualify for unemployment benefits. I believe most states require a minimum of 20 weeks of work before you are eligible for unemployment benefits. I then asked the woman if my seven years of work for the non-profit qualified me for any unemployment pay, but I was again denied. She said that the non-profit company I worked for doesn’t pay into the unemployment system (I presume, perhaps, they have an exemption) and therefore their employees are not allowed to participate in state unemployment benefits. I was disappointed that I had been in the full-time work force for so many years, dutifully paying my local, state, and federal taxes yet after a thorough investigation, I wasn’t eligible to get a single tax dollar back through unemployment programs.

Government Welfare Failure #2: COBRA Insurance

I had often heard of COBRA health insurance, but I really didn’t know much about it. I did some research and found that COBRA stands for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. It’s a law passed in 1985 that, among other things, gives health insurance companies the ability to continue to cover some employees after leaving employment. I don’t understand all the ins and out of the law, because I stopped investigating it when I found out that COBRA insurance is an optional program for employers and my last employer had opted out of participating in it.

Government Welfare Failure #3: Emergency Room Financial Assistance

The week after I lost my job, we were visiting family in another state. I was playing basketball with some family and friends and I collided with another player and split my head open just above my eye. It was bleeding profusely and the other players immediately took me to the emergency room. I could hardly believe my luck, or the lack thereof. I had been playing basketball two or three times a week for the prior 8 years without ever having a serious injury, and the week after I lose my health insurance, a basketball injury sends me to the emergency room.

I ended up getting six stitches and a really bad black eye. At the hospital, I told the attendants that I didn’t have health insurance and they gave me the number for their financial aid office. They didn’t collect anything while I was in the ER but a week or so later, I got a bill for over $1,000. I contacted the financial aid office, as I was instructed, but I was denied any benefits because I was not a resident of the state of the hospital that treated me.

Government Welfare Failure #4: Medicaid

Medicaid is a government health insurance program I knew about that is designed to help the poor in our country get healthcare. I had no idea if me and my family would qualify for Medicaid, so I began to look into it. The government websites were confusing and didn’t answer my basic question: would someone in my situation, who just lost his job and has a family to take care of, qualify for Medicaid. I next called the Medicaid office and after way too many menus and waiting on hold for 30 minutes, I finally was able to talk to a real person. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to help me either except to point me to a 19-page application form. She said that the only way she could tell me if I qualified for Medicaid was if I filled out this mammoth, 19-page form!

At this point, having been unemployed for only a couple of weeks, and doubting that I would even qualify, I opted not to spend an entire day filling out the Medicaid form. I thought my days would be better spend job hunting and putting in employment applications. Had my unemployment drawn on longer, I probably would have acquiesced and completed the form, luckily, it never came to that. But I was disappointed that simply eligibility questions could not be answered without filling out an overly lengthy and complicated application form.

Conclusion

We, collectively, spend millions of dollars in our churches on welfare programs to help the poor and needy. In our government, we collect (from tax payers) and spend billions of dollars on social welfare programs of every variety. Yet in my time of need, not a single one of those church or government programs was able to help me. The one program that was able to help me was the program instituted by God–the family. The one institution that did come to our aid and helped my family when we were unemployed was family.

So in a time of debate about expanding government programs, like Medicare for All and so forth, I share my experience as a cautionary tale. I think it is foolish to continue to throw money into giant, bloated, bureaucratic government welfare programs that clearly do not work. These programs do not need to grow or be expanded, they need to be streamlined and made to be more efficient and effective. And instead of investing more in programs that do not work, what we need to do is strengthen the family, the institution that works phenomenally well and does so without taxes, without bureaucracy, and without compulsion. The family is the best social safety net, and it deserves our greatest love, devotion, protection, and strengthening.

Liberal Tightwads and Compassionate Conservatives

It truly is a Christmas miracle that the New York Times printed an article over the weekend called Bleeding Heart Tightwads. The columnist, Nicholas D. Kristof, admits what many of us have always instinctively known, that conservatives are more generous than liberals. He cites three studies in his column, all of which support the conclusion that liberals are far more stingy in their charitable giving than conservatives:

  • Arthur Brooks, the author of a book on donors to charity, “Who Really Cares,” cites data that households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals.
  • A study by Google found an even greater disproportion: average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals.
  • The “generosity index” from the Catalogue for Philanthropy typically finds that red states (Republican voting states) are the most likely to give to nonprofits, while Northeastern states (Democrat voting states) are least likely to do so.

Kristof further says, “when liberals see the data on giving, they tend to protest that conservatives look good only because they shower dollars on churches — that a fair amount of that money isn’t helping the poor, but simply constructing lavish spires…(but) according to Google’s figures, if donations to all religious organizations are excluded…(still) conservatives are more generous than liberals.”

Now after reading this, I wanted to dig into the numbers myself. Not that I don’t believe Kristof or his sources, I do, but like the name of my blog indicates, I like to analyze things. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find on the Internet any of the data he referenced in his column. Good data is so hard to come by 🙂 But I did find a report called Volunteering in America, which has state by state trends from 2002 to 2005. The volunteer rate cited in the report is the percentage of the population, 16 years of age or older, that participates in volunteering activities. As you can see in the chart below, 8 of the top 10 states are traditional Republican states, so the data seems to back up Kristof’s conclusions that conservatives are more generous in their giving.

Be Prepared, the Scout Motto, Hoodwinked Style

The motto of the Boy Scouts is Be Prepared. Be prepared means you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do your duty.

It is said that someone once asked Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, “be prepared for what?” To which he answered, “why, for any old thing.” Powell further said, “the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best. ‘Be Prepared’ in this way, to live happy and to die happy.”

A couple of things have got me thinking about the importance of being prepared. One is the recent economic turmoil in the country and world, volitility in gas prices, wheat shortages, unemployment rising, etc. My family has been trying to do better with our finances, pay off our debts, and build up our food storage, all in an effort to be prepared for whatever my come our way.

But the real thing that got me thinking on this topic was watching Hoodwinked with the kids this weekend. It’s a hilarious movie, and there is a great song in it with a bewitched mountain goat singing about being prepared. If you haven’t seen it, here it is:

My Proposal for a Government Welfare Program

See if you can guess who uttered the following statements regarding welfare and caring for the poor. By the way, I really do think these principles make for a pretty good welfare program. Our government would be wise to follow such principles.

“Every man and woman ought to possess the spirit of independence, a self-sustaining spirit, that would prompt him or her to say, when they are in need, “I am willing to give my labor in exchange for that which you give me.” No man ought to be satisfied to receive, and to do nothing for it. After a man is brought down to poverty and is under the necessity of receiving aid, and his friends give it to him, he should feel that it is an obligation under which he is placed, and when the Lord should open his way he would return the gift.”

“It is a bad thing for men to think the world owes them a living, and all they have to do is to beg or steal to get it….I don’t refer to the cripple, or to those who are enfeebled by age, because I look at them in an entirely different light; there is a necessity for them to live, and there is a necessity for us to assist such, but there is no great need in this world for men and women who are able to work and will not work.”

“Even the poor who have to be assisted should be willing to do all in their power to earn their own living. Not one man or woman should be content to sit down and be fed, clothed, or housed without any exertion on his or her part to compensate for these privileges. All men and women should feel a degree of independence of character that would stimulate them to do something for a living, and not be idle; for it is written that the idler shall not eat the bread of the laborer.”

“Remember the poor, and to give means for their support…. No call for help [should ever be] heard in vain by them.”

“It is clear that plans which contemplate only relieving present distress are deficient. The Church has always sought to place its members in a way to help themselves, rather than adopting the method of so many charitable institutions of providing for only present needs. When the help is withdrawn or used up, more must be provided from the same source, thus making paupers of the poor and teaching them the incorrect principle of relying upon others’ help, instead of depending upon their own exertions…. Our idea of charity, therefore, is to relieve present wants and then to put the poor in a way to help themselves so that in turn they may help others.”

“Our people have learned through the commandments of God how to take care of themselves and are trying to help others to do likewise. They are ever helping each other and it is seldom that poor are found among them who are unprovided for. They are practically independent and may become entirely so by a stricter adherence to the law of the Lord! We believe that if other communities would adopt [these] plans…that poverty and pauperism would be greatly reduced or entirely overcome. Opportunities would be presented so that all might obtain work and thus provide for themselves.”

And the answer the answer is…Joseph F. Smith, 6th President of the Mormon Church. These quotes were taken from his book, Gospel Doctrine, pages 234 – 238.

Equality has Evolved into Entitlement

Last night, I was watching the FoxNews channel and they were discussing the Hispanic community’s support of Hilliary Clinton. Several so-called leaders of the Hispanic Community, including California Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, mentioned how much the Clintons have done for the Hispanic Community (though she was amazingly vague on the details of exactly what they have done). All of these people interviewed during this segment said that the Hispanic Community would remember how much the Clintons have done for them and come out to vote for Hillary.

This entire exchange bothered me because it highlights a troubling trend in American politics: The voter attitude of ‘What have you done for ME?’ or ‘What will you do for ME?’ if you want MY vote. And of course, it’s not just the voters to blame, the pandering politicians are equally at fault.

This selfish attitude especially hit home to me on the day we celebrate the life of civil rights equality advocate Martin Luther King. Dr, King did not seek for preferential treatment; he sought simply for Black Americans to be treated equally to White Americans:

  • “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal
  • “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
  • The people on this FoxNews segment made it clear that having their interest group be treated equally and given the same opportunity as every other American was not sufficient. They wanted hand outs in exchange for their votes. This is a manifestation of the “Entitlement Mentality” (feeling entitled to government hand outs) conservatives have been concerned about for years.1

    Polar opposite to the entitlement mentality is a famous quote from President John F. Kennedy:”Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

    I agree with that sentiment, but there is little or no chance of hearing a similar sentiment from a presidential candidate today. It’s interesting to note though, that even JFK waited until after he had been elected to express this concept as the aforementioned quote was from his inaugural address.

    1. I found this good definition of entitlement mentality on Connor’s Conundrums blog:
    “Due to continually creeping socialism and the ever-expanding welfare state, American citizens are now being raised with an entitlement mentality. Rather than being instilled with a desire to work hard and follow the law of the harvest, children are ingrained with the errant notion that they will be able to depend on government for their social well-being.”