Through provisions in the public assistance titles of the Social Security Act, great progress has been made in fulfilling the obligation of government to secure and protect human rights. For the first time in the United States, the legal right of a needy person to public assistance was established for four groups. Requirements for approval of state assistance plans included: the right to apply for assistance and to have prompt action taken on the application, and if eligible, to receive unrestricted money payments for as long as needed, to have personal information kept confidential, except as required for administration of public assistance, and to have the right of appeal to a state agency and the courts if denied assistance by a local agency. These provisions were all intended to prevent discrimination and humiliation and to help recipients maintain or rebuild their independence.

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In your citation from the Mayor’s Committee on Unemployment Relief the statement occurs – “The one million men and women who are unemployed today in New York City as a result of the depression cannot be regarded as maladjusted individuals in need of case work.” This is another version of the old “worthy” and “unworthy” concept, which holds that ordinary poor are to be regarded as just maladjusted people who may be subjected to an unpleasant discipline called case work; but the new or worthy poor, or the poor “through no fault of their own” must be protected against this case work.

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Why have a private casework agency when there is a tax-supported public agency?

Perhaps this question can best be answered philosophically. One either does or does not believe in public and private enterprise in business, in industry, in medicine, education etc, and in social work. Those who believe in relinquishing all responsibility to the State, retreating into large-scale programs, and who question the value of personal ideals or effort and the value of the individual himself, will see little use for private social work. Those who still have faith in the democratic process, in the individual, in the family, in mutual aid, in cooperative social enterprises towards a higher standard of living and greater, not less, human dignity, will have a renewal, rather than a denial of faith in private endeavor. A combination of public and voluntary activities in all fields seems to us desirable.

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When sometimes I hear it said that in my husband’s time we started something dreadful, something which they called “creeping socialism,” I wonder whether instead we didn’t really face the fact that a democracy must meet the needs of its people, and whether what we did was not actually to save democracy, to save free enterprise, to keep for ourselves as much freedom as we possibly could. Had we not met the needs of the people, we might have waked up and found ourselves not just in creeping socialism, but perhaps going actually to the far extremes of either fascism or communism, because we could not find a way to meet the needs of the people.

As I have been around the world it has seemed to me that we in this country, when we talk of capitalism or free enterprise, should explain what we mean, because there are many areas of the world in which it is not at all understood what we actually mean when we talk of our own capitalism, of our own development in the past thirty years or forty years, let us say.

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Since Flint lives and has its being through General Motors the staggered production-plan, by which fewer families will get work but they have more steady employment, will it is generally agreed make less high peaks in relief but by the same token prevent the minimum drops of last Spring and Summer here. The tentative production schedules of Buick and Chevrolet, on which Fisher Body and accessory companies depend, are based on “reasonably optimistic” plans. Those two companies expect to employ more than 8,000 less than they did last year at their peaks. Chevrolet, for instance, went up to between 18 and 19,000 last Spring. While now only at 3,900 it expects by the middle of December to have 10,000 employed. By February 1 it expects to have 13,000 employed. It will continue, according to present plans on that schedule.

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What to me was of outstanding interest here is the way the unemployed are behaving about relief. The workers on the whole are “hard babies,” the living conditions are bad, the struggle for existence has been terrible even before the depression, but the place is to a certain extent a yardstick of behavior in depressed, deflated conditions….I spent a day visiting homes with investigators. They tell me that relief is actually raising standards in some of these shack lives. One of the leading doctors told me that medical care in the City was now better than it had ever been before. In the homes that I visited less than 25 per cent were “unemployables.” All, except a very few, asked for clothing or other articles such as a new stove, that neighbors had received from relief. I certainly had a feeling that few would choose to stay on relief but there was little feeling that it was a painful process to ask for relief.

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As one investigator said, “The workers in Detroit used to run up debts between employment,–run a rent up for several months, owe a grocery bill for several months and borrow on the furniture. They don’t do that any more. When their money is exhausted they come to relief.” While several men said to me with evident satisfaction that they had no debts, others pointed out that the grocers and landlords no longer feeling so optimistic about the economic possibilities of their debtors will not extend credit as they used to.

An old Ford worker said, “I used to be able to pick up odd jobs such as washing cars. My wife did, too, then. We used to worry along.” A Chevrolet man said “Each year my savings grew lean and less until now I am at rock bottom.” These men are both applying for relief for the first time this Fall. They expect to get jobs by the first of the year if not before.

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First let us review the past. Before the Social Security Act was passed, most of the states had what was called Mothers’ Aid laws or Widows’ Pensions. The effect of the Social Security Act was that the legislatures revised and broadened their laws because they had to comply with the more liberal provisions of the Social Security Act.
The difference between the old laws for assistance to dependent children and the Social Security law is that in order to get the money, the assistance must be made statewide. In the past, the assistance was not statewide, and one city or county would give assistance here and there.

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Berry Picking and Relief

On April 9, 2014 By

Public relief affords no real security. The family on relief cannot meet its actual minimum needs. If private employment can offer more, we send it men. But we can hardly abandon our people to industry or agriculture which offers them less than relief. Employers will have no difficulty in getting or keeping labor if they can guarantee a certain and adequate wage and decent conditions. The relief client and his family are not lolling on the fat of the land on $7.50 a week.

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In the first days of hope for an early strike settlement, it seemed that the regular staff of the relief organization might be able to “absorb” the extra load. But as soon as the first peace parley failed the scene took on a different color. On that day, the office swarmed with applicants for relief; many could not be taken care of at all; facilities were inadequate; feelings were tense.

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