The American Dole: Unemployment Relief and the Welfare State in the Great Depression

By Jeff Singleton | Go to book overview

inson and Hoover proposals included virtually identical provisions for $300 million in direct relief aid. The relief funds, according to a provision devised by Senator Robert Wagner, would be in the form of "loans" to be deducted from future highway grants. Although Progressives in Congress and social workers disliked this approach, they temporarily dropped their opposition to get a relief bill passed. 95

There followed a politically charged debate over the public works provisions of the bill and the role of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which was designated to distribute loans to the states. From the outset, Hoover opposed a Democratic plan for a $500 million bond issue for federal public works. Then John Nance Gamer, the House Speaker and a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, proposed that RFC loans be provided directly to "any person" who needed aid, not just corporations and states. 96 The conflict over these issues, which dragged on through July, has created the impression that Hoover continued to resist a federal relief program. This is not the case. Both sides had agreed on the relief formula in May; the delay in passing a bin was as much the product of political posturing by the Democrats as by recalcitrance on Hoover's part. 97 Finally in late July, with relief having been discontinued in Philadelphia and on the verge of collapse in Chicago and with recipients subsisting on bread and milk in Detroit, Hoover signed the Emergency Relief and Construction Act of 1932. The bill contained compromise provisions for federal and state public works, but the most important element, for our purposes, was $300 million in federal aid for local relief. Despite the fig leaf that these were temporary "loans," the reality was that the federal government had permanently entered the field of means-tested relief.


NOTES
1.
Hoover press statement ( February 3, 1931), in The State Papers and Other Writings of Herbert Hoover, William Starr Myers, ed. ( Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran and Co., 1934), 497. Hoover's statement was a response to a congressional appropriation for drought relief. David Hamilton has called the February 3 press release "perhaps [ Hoover's] most important statement on relief issues during his term in office." David E. Hamilton, "Herbert Hoover and the Great Drought of 1930," Journal of American History 68, no. 4 ( March 1982): 871. It is important to note that Hoover's statement did not reject federal relief if state and local resources failed to "prevent starvation." Thus, the administration's official position was not that an emergency program was, a priori, a violation of a fundamental constitutional principle but rather that it was unnecessary and dangerous.
2.
The State Papers of Herbert Hoover, 499; New York Times, April 8, 1931, 4; April 14, 1931, 1, 12.
3.
Joan Hoff Wilson, Herbert Hoover: Forgotten Progressive ( Boston: Little,

-82-

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The American Dole: Unemployment Relief and the Welfare State in the Great Depression
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in American History ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Chapter 1 - Unemployment Relief and the Welfare State 1
  • Notes 18
  • Chapter 2 - The "Rising Tide of Relief" 27
  • Notes 48
  • Chapter 3 - The Myth of Voluntarism 57
  • Notes 82
  • Chapter 4 - The National Dole 93
  • Notes 120
  • Chapter 5 - Work Relief 131
  • Notes 160
  • Chapter 6 - Ending the Dole as We Knew It 173
  • Notes 199
  • Conclusion 209
  • Notes 217
  • Appendix - Relief Estimates and the Children's Bureau Series 221
  • Notes 224
  • Bibliography 227
  • Index 239
  • About the Author 245
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