I occasionally hear people say that the Bible supports private welfare, but that nowhere does the Bible say that the government should administer welfare. I believe on the contrary that the Bible lays out a careful system for both public and private welfare. Rather than seeing welfare as a kind of class warfare where the poor steal from the rich, the Bible sees welfare, both public and private, as something integrally woven into the social system.
In Matthew 12:1 we learn that "...Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them." The Pharisees were upset, of course, but interestingly not because the disciples were stealing grain that didn't belong to them. This is because of the law of the land: "..do not pick your vineyard clean or gather up all the grapes that have fallen there. Leave these items for the poor and the immigrant; I am the LORD your God."- Lev 19:10. God is "infringing on our right to keep what we earn" by commanding us to remember the poor and the immigrant. It is interesting that Jesus was not upset to have his disciples as counted among the poor and therefore eligible for this kind of welfare, even though they were capable of working.
In addition to this commandment for private welfare God instructed Israel to care for the poor via the tithe. Tithe collection was done by the government: “Moreover, we will bring to the storerooms of the house of our God, to the priests, the first of our ground meal, of our grain offerings, of the fruit of all our trees and of our new wine and olive oil. And we will bring a tithe of our crops to the Levites, for it is the Levites who collect the tithes in all the towns where we work." Neh 10:37-38. The storehouse was at the Temple, which was the center of religious and political life of Israel: "Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple"-Malachi 3:10. The tithe was for the poor: "At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands."-Deuteronomy 14:28-29
I believe that the Bible lays out a very common sense plan of a combination of governmental and private welfare. Administering government welfare can be a problem because of freeloaders, but we have made much progress since the Carter days. I am in favor of the faith based initiatives started by President Bush and continued by President Obama. I also think that Obama's maligned welfare initiative that relaxes federal control of welfare work requirements in order to give more control to the states is a step in the right direction. Isn't it funny that this essentially conservative move should be used by the Romney campaign to malign the President?