The WPA and Federal Relief Policy

By Donald S. Howard | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV
ELIGIBILITY: NEED

NEED, A PRIME CONSIDERATION

WITH BUT FEW exceptions, employable persons must be in need in order to secure WPA jobs. This requirement, among the earliest prescribed for WPA employment,1 has probably given rise to more criticism, difference of opinion, administrative and legislative changes in policy, and divergence in practice, than any other aspect of the WPA program.2

Although federal policy (at the insistence of Congress) has been, increasingly, to restrict WPA employment to needy persons, many organizations and many individuals, both within and without the WPA, have advocated abolition of the needs test as a prerequisite to getting a WPA job. Restricting WPA employment to needy workers is usually justified on the ground that the number of jobs the federal government could afford to provide has never been enough to go around, so should go first to needy workers whose families might otherwise suffer or have to apply for help from local and state relief funds. Proponents of this view do not usually appear to realize that the issue of what the nation can or cannot afford is far from being a closed question--as war expenditures in 1941 and 1942 have clearly shown.

The President, in 1939, put the case thus: "In meeting the problem of need within the limits of the funds which can reasonably be made available for the purpose, the emphasis must necessarily be placed upon the number of unemployed individuals who are actually in need of wages in order to secure the necessities of life."3

____________________
1
Even before the Works Program was born, the President's Committee on Economic Security (early in 1935) strongly implied that the jobs provided under the "employment assurance" program which it recommended should be awarded on the basis of need--together with "apparent ability to do the work offered."-- Report to the President. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1935, p. 9.
2
This is not the only arena in which the question of means tests is bitterly fought. For distinguished analysis of this issue in relation to certain British social services see British Unemployment Programs, 1920-1938, by Eveline M. Burns. Social Science Research Council, Washington, 1941, pp. 226-227, 238 ff.
3
As quoted in the New York Times, April 28, 1939. The close relationship between limiting jobs to needy workers on the one hand and the number of jobs pro

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