Thursday, September 30, 2004

"Little Utah"

In contemplating the Latter-day Saint’s admirable tendency towards saving money and being frugal (a value that can apparently overshadow regard to “no outside food and drink” movie theater signs!), I bring up another interesting phenomenon: abuse of governmental programs by Church members.

An upscale apartment complex in our Midwest college town has been dubbed “Little Utah” in local LDS circles, because more than 50% of their residents are LDS families. It is widely known, mostly among Mormons, that this complex accepts government subsidies to reduce or completely pay rent for those who qualify.

Some of these families are in need of these programs, but from what we’ve seen and heard, the majority probably are not. They are all graduate-level/professional students (mostly dental). They can take out more than enough in loans to meet their needs. Many come from very well-to-do families (children of dentists and doctors). And they will all likely be quite well off in a few years because of their chosen professions.

One has to admire the fact they are being frugal and saving their money. Most are simply trying to “avoid debt,” as we are so frequently counseled. However, we often see their savings and extra loan money go toward fun new toys, such as big-screen TVs and new minivans. They probably look at us, paying our rent (and food and health insurance, but I won’t go into the food stamps and WIC programs they are also on), and they might wonder why we don’t channel our funds more wisely.

What disturbs me most is knowing that this same abuse occurs at many universities among members of the Church. We have heard of other “Little Utahs” across the Midwest.

No one is breaking any laws here – what they are doing is clearly legal, because the numbers fit. But is this ethical? If there are loopholes, does that mean we should take them? What about all those self-reliance talks in General Conference? We could certainly work our numbers as they have, so am I being too prideful in paying my own rent? Perhaps the biggest question is, what does this trend say to non-members about us as Latter-day Saints?