Bishops are blessed with and are very much entitled to the gift of discernment as they are faced with the task to seek out and care for the poor, said Bishop H. David Burton.
Speaking as part of the Church DVD, "Basic Principles of Welfare and Self-Reliance," Bishop Burton said caring for the poor in the Lord's way will often require making difficult decisions.
"Each individual case that you deal with requires inspiration. Guided by the Spirit, while keeping in mind basic welfare principles, bishops can best determine who is in need, how much and what kind of assistance is needed and how long it may be required."
He outlined some of the basic, time-tested welfare principles that will help bishops optimize their decisions:
Seek out the poor. "It is not enough to assist only when asked," he said. "The bishop should encourage priesthood and Relief Society leaders, along with home teachers and visiting teachers, to help identify those who need assistance."
Promote personal responsibility. "Individuals are responsible for themselves. When individuals are not capable of providing for themselves, immediate family, as well as extended family, have an obligation and opportunity to assist."
Sustain life not lifestyle. "Individuals are expected to use any assets they have for their support and in an orderly way downsize to accommodate their budget restraints."
Provide commodities before cash. "When possible, the bishop provides members with commodities instead of giving them money or paying their bills," Bishop Burton said.
Provide work and service opportunities. "For individuals to retain their dignity during a time of personal distress, opportunities for service and work commensurate with the recipients' circumstances should be found," he said. "The value of the work or service need not be equal to the assistance received but rather sufficient to avoid the evils of the dole and the fostering of an entitlement mentality. The ward council can assist by compiling and maintaining a list of meaningful work opportunities."