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The WPA and Federal Relief Policy

By Donald S. Howard | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXIX
"SPECIAL" FEDERAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR
NEEDS ARISING FROM UNEMPLOYMENT

RELIEF POLICIES of the Roosevelt administration from the very first, but particularly since 1935, have been based on the assumption that, although the federal government had a certain degree of responsibility for needy unemployable persons, it had a peculiar responsibility for needy persons who were unemployed and presumably employable.


THE PRINCIPLE STATED

Upon signing the first federal relief act of his administration, President Roosevelt, in May, 1933, stressed the fact that the appropriation authorized by Congress was for "unemployment relief."1 When Harry Hopkins spoke before the National Conference of Social Work in June, 1933, he explained:

. . . the intent of this act is that relief should be given to the heads of families who are out of work and whose dependency arises from the fact that they are out of work; single men and women who are out of work, and to transient families, as well as the transient men and women roaming about the country. Those are the persons for whom relief is intended. I am not going to hide behind the cloak of the intent of Congress as to what federal funds can be used for. It is my belief that the people who fought for this bill, who tried to get this money, were trying to get it for relief for the unemployed, and not for a number of other perfectly fine and worthy social objectives.2

One month later, regulations issued by the FERA prescribed that relief administered under the federal relief act was for "needy unemployed persons and/or their dependents."3

____________________
1
See the New York Times, May 13, 1933.
2
"The Developing National Program of Relief," in Proceedings of the National Conference of Social Work. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1933, pp. 65-66.
3
FERA, Rules and Regulations, No. 3. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1933, p. 2. In explanation of federal policy, Mr. Hopkins in April, 1934, wrote state relief administrators that "the emphasis of the FERA program is being placed upon work relief or subsistence activities for normally employable people. We feel, particularly now, that it is important that States and localities continue responsibility for various types of chronic cases and also continue and extend such services as pensions for widows, aged, etc.

"There has been some intimation that in a number of States many widows with

-715-

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