The WPA and Federal Relief Policy

By Donald S. Howard | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
ELIGIBILITY: MEASURING NEED

FEDERAL POLICY with respect to standards for determining need, as defined by Congress, has been stated only in the broadest terms.1 Regulations issued by the WPA from time to time have defined need somewhat more in detail. Those issued in July, 1939, for example, prescribed that "need shall be said to exist where the resources of a family or unattached individual are insufficient to provide a reasonable subsistence compatible with decency and health."2 Another statement of policy issued in February of the same year, when the needs of all project workers were reviewed, was that:

No one should have his eligibility cancelled whose income from other than WPA sources is insufficient to assure him a subsistence compatible with decency and health, and no one shall be removed from WPA employment as ineligible as to need who in the absence of such employment would have to seek assistance from a public relief agency.3

Within limits as broad as these, obviously, almost anything can (and does) happen. The range of possibilities was once stated "conservatively" by Colonel Harrington who declared that a person in one community might be regarded as in need if his monthly income fell below $25, whereas in another community he might not be regarded as in need unless he had no income at all and was on the verge of going into the fields to starve to death.

The degree of influence exercised by the WPA to make sure that standards established by responsible state or local certifying agencies are neither unduly harsh and restrictive nor too liberal and flexible, has increased with the passage of the years. Earlier reluctance on the part of the WPA to exert more control over standards of need, as well as over other phases of the process of

____________________
1
Congress has specified only that WPA employment shall be made available to "needy persons" or to "persons in need." In a few instances Congress has specified that they must be "in actual need." In 1940 Colonel Harrington suggested that Congress make employment available to persons "in need of employment." He did not specify, however, how such a standard might differ from that already prescribed.
2
WPA Operating Procedure No. E-9, sec. 9, July 31, 1939. This followed almost verbatim a standard prescribed in July, 1938.--WPA Administrative Order No. 65.
3
WPA General Letter No. 233, February 10, 1939.

-380-

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