The history of public welfare in the United States has been one of continuing change and growth. Prior to the 1900’s local governments shared with private charitable organizations major responsibility for public assistance or as it was often termed, “public relief.” As the nation’s economy became more industrial and the population more concentrated in urban areas, the need for public relief often grew beyond the means, and sometimes the willingness, of local public and private authorities to provide needed assistance. During the Progressive Era, some state governments began to assume more responsibility for helping the worthy poor. By 1926, forty states had established some type of public relief program for mothers with dependent children. The programs and the size of the benefits varied widely among the states.
State financed public assistance programs were often inadequate to meet the challenges of large-scale unemployment and urban poverty that often afflicted states and urban areas. But it was the Great Depression of the 1930’s that led to the collapse of state financed public relief programs. State systems of public relief were simply unprepared to cope with the volume of requests for help from individuals and families without work or income. On top of that, the economic depression reduced state and local revenues. Conditions were so grave it became necessary for the federal government to step in and help with the costs of public relief.
The national government’s first significant initiative to help bail out state governments was the enactment of the Emergency Relief and Construction Act of 1932. On signing this legislation, President Herbert Hoover said:
A few states also provided cash assistance to needy elderly residents through old-age pensions
- “First–through https://loansolution.com/payday-loans-ks/ provision of $300 million of temporary loans by the Reconstruction Corporation to such States as are absolutely unable to finance the relief of distress, we have a solid backlog of assurance that there need be no hunger and cold in the United States. These loans are to be based upon absolute need and evidence of financial exhaustion. I do not expect any State to resort to it except as a last extremity.
- “Second–through the provision for $1,500 million of loans by the Reconstruction Corporation for reproductive construction work of public character on terms which will be repaid, we should ultimately be able to find employment for hundreds of thousands of people without drain on the taxpayer.
- “Third–through the broadening of the powers of the Corporation in the character of loans it can make to assist agriculture, we should materially improve the position of the farmer…”
Immediately after assuming office in 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed and then signed the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA), which, in its first year enabled the national government to distribute more than $1 billion to the states to shore up their existing public relief programs. The language of the enabling legislation included these sections:
4. (a) Out of the funds of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation made available by this Act, the Administrator is authorized to make grants to the several States to aid in meeting the costs of furnishing relief and work relief and in relieving the hardship and suffering caused by unemployment in the form of money, service, materials, and/or commodities to provide the necessities of life to persons in need as a result of the present emergency, and/or to their dependents, whether resident, transient, or homeless. (b) Of the amounts made available by this Act not to exceed $250,000,000 shall be granted to the several States applying therefore, in the following manner: Each State shall be entitled to receive grants equal to one third of the amount expended by such State, including the civil subdivisions thereof, out of public moneys from all sources for the purposes set forth in subsection (a) of this section; and such grants shall be made quarterly, beginning with the second quarter in the calendar year 1933, and shall be made during any quarter upon the basis of such expenditures certified by the States to have been made during the preceding quarter. 5. Any State desiring to obtain funds under this Act shall through its Governor make application therefore from time to time to the Administrator. Each application so made shall present in the manner requested by the Administrator information showing (1) the amounts necessary to meet relief needs in the State during the period covered by such application and the amounts available from public or private sources within the State, its political subdivisions, and private agencies, to meet the relief needs of the State, (2) the provision made to assure adequate administrative supervision, (3) the provision made for suitable standards of relief, and (4) the purposes for which the funds requested will be used. 7. As used in the foregoing provisions of this Act, the term State shall include the District of Columbia, Alaska, Hawaii, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico; and the term Governor shall include the Commissioners of the District of Columbia.
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