Governor's Office. Emergency Relief Administration

Entity: 343
Entity Type: State Government


On August 24, 1932, Governor George H. Dern created the Governor's Central Committee on Emergency Relief for Utah as the state's first emergency relief agency to obtain and administer federal emergency relief funds for destitute Utah residents. Dern's successor, Governor H. H. Blood, continued this committee until June 10, 1933 when he established the Public Welfare and Emergency Relief Administration for Utah in accordance with powers granted him by the 20th State Legislature the preceding March. Eventually called the Utah Emergency Relief Administration (UERA), this agency operated under the joint direction of the Governor's State Advisory Committee on Public Welfare and Emergency Relief, and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) from which it obtained federal grants. In March 1935, the State Legislature continued the UERA program under a newly created State Department of Public Welfare (UTSVH01284-A).

Biography/History Notes

The Emergency Relief and Construction Act of 1932 made federal emergency loans available to states through application by the governor. The primary function of the Governor's Central Committee on Emergency Relief for Utah was to assist the governor in obtaining and administering these loans for distribution to Utah's county relief agencies. For this purpose the committee worked directly with each county's Board of County Commissioners to assess relief needs, prepare federal relief applications, and distribute funds. The Committee also authorized public works projects which could operate as work relief for the unemployed. In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal replaced the federal loan program with emergency grants to states through the FERA. The UERA existed primarily to obtain and administer these grants in accordance with federal and state regulations. Initially, the UERA adopted the primary administrative functions of the Governor's Central Committee and continued their limited direct relief and work programs. By the end of 1933, however, a dramatic increase in state and federal emergency appropriations subsidized the expansion of emergency relief services in Utah including programs in emergency education, transient relief, rural rehabilitation, and drought relief.

The UERA received a mandate from the State Legislature in March 1933 to collaborate with county and municipal governments, and state and federal departments in the planning and administration of public works and unemployment relief programs. They could issue emergency warrants or script to fund the state relief program and negotiate with federal agencies in order to obtain necessary funds for the operation of such programs. Further, the UERA, its advisory board and sub-advisory committees reviewed and passed on all relief applications, and where necessary conducted surveys to determine the eligibility of a potential relief recipient, or the feasibility of a proposed relief project.

Early direct relief services typically included payments "in kind" such as food, clothing, shelter, fuel, public utilities, and medical services. Distribution of cash payments to eligible recipients was also a function of the agency, though this was less common until April 1934 when expanded work relief programs increased the distribution of cash in exchange for labor. The increase in state and federal funding brought about by the FERA led to a dramatic expansion in state emergency relief programs from late 1933 through 1934. An Emergency Education Program began in late November 1933 to provide classes in adult education, part-time employment for college students, and assist in the extension of rural schools. In December 1933, the agency initiated the Transient Relief Program to relieve local governments of the burden of caring for interstate transient populations. An extensive Drought Relief Program was begun in May 1934 after all Utah counties were declared emergency drought areas. And in July 1934, the Rural Rehabilitation Program began to administer federal aid directly to farm families to promote rural self-sufficiency.

To relieve the over-burdened state relief roles of unemployed clients who were able to work, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Civil Works Administration (CWA) in the fall of 1933. The CWA began in Utah on November 19 of that year. Unlike the FERA which channeled federal grants to state agencies for administration, the CWA was a federal program in its entirety, centrally administered from the CWA office in Washington and executed through federally appointed local agencies. Utah projects begun under the CWA included the construction of city streets, roads, public buildings, parks and playgrounds, school buildings and grounds, waterways, and drainages. Lasting only twenty weeks, the CWA ceased its operations on March 31, 1934. The UERA continued these projects with the inauguration of their Emergency Works Program on April 1, 1934. The UERA Works Program continued until August 1935 when its operations were transferred to the recently created Works Progress Administration (WPA).

The termination of the CWA, and creation of the Emergency Works Program under the UERA, coincided with a change in the administration of federal funds by state agencies. Beginning April 1, 1934, FERA official regulations required state relief agencies to abandon the pro rata method of relief disbursement and conduct monthly investigations to determine the needs and eligibility of applicants for direct and work relief. Consequently, an applicant's eligibility for work relief was determined on the basis of the individual's need, and reviewed on a case by case basis. To accurately assess the needs and eligibility of applicants for relief, the agency established the Social Services Division on April 1, 1934, and employed case workers and supervisors in each county to assist local relief administrations in standardizing methods for determining eligibility.

The Governor's Central Committee on Emergency Relief for Utah was a twelve member board appointed by the Governor who acted as chairman. The Governor also appointed an Executive Committee made up of six Central Committee members to act as an advisory board. As successor to the Governor's Central Committee, the UERA was, by contrast, administered by a single director appointed by the Governor. A twelve member State Advisory Committee on Public Welfare and Emergency Relief, also appointed by the Governor, oversaw the activities of the UERA, thereby continuing the supervisory function of the Governor's Executive Committee. The UERA director was Vice-Chair of the State Advisory Committee and was authorized to represent the Committee and the State in all dealings with the federal government. Moreover, with the creation of the federal Civil Works Administration (CWA) in November 1933, FERA director Harry Hopkins adopted all existing state and local relief agencies as federal branches of the CWA works program. Consequently, in addition to their primary role as state emergency relief administrators, the UERA director and State Advisory Committee members served as federal administrators for the CWA in Utah during its existence from November 19, 1933 to March 31, 1934.

In 1933, the State Legislature empowered Governor H. H. Blood to create a State Emergency Commission "to assist farmers, stockmen, and others to raise the existing ruinously low commodity price level, and to employ productively the able-bodied unemployed citizens of Utah and to pay for emergency work partly in current funds and partly in any other equitable manner or in script" (Laws of Utah, Ch. 87, 1933). The legislature intended the commission to be a temporary expedient to the economic depression, and officially named it the Utah State Emergency Commission. Commission members were to include the Governor, as chairman, and not less than three Utah citizens who were to serve without pay. When Governor Blood actually appointed the commission on June 10, 1933, however, he elected a twelve member board which he named the State Advisory Committee on Public Welfare and Emergency Relief. This Committee held supervisory powers over the UERA, established all rules and regulations concerning the administration of state and federal emergency relief funds in Utah, ensured the UERA's compliance with federal regulations, and reviewed and passed on all applications for relief. In the execution of its duties, this committee also established various subcommittees to supervise specific UERA programs. The Governor's Emergency Drought Relief Committee was one of these subcommittees.

Because the UERA was the state agency responsible for administering federal funds, they came under considerable control by the FERA. The FERA allocated relief fund to states according to their perceived need and distributed these funds as grants. This grant-in-aid method favored administrative efficiency by utilizing many preexisting state and local relief agencies for local administration of relief services, hence, retaining local control over relief activities as before 1932. But to qualify for these grants, the states had to comply with federal regulations. First, the states were required to accept the Federal Emergency Relief Act of 1933 and create an agency with adequate powers for obtaining and administering the relief. Second, the state agency was required to submit periodic administrative plans for federal approval. Third, federal statutes required states to allocate matching relief funds.

Further, the FERA issued frequent regulations to promote uniform administrative standards and ensure proper use of federal funds. The primary instrument for enforcing these regulations was the threat of withholding funds. Grants for special programs which could not be applied to the general relief fund provided FERA another means of control over state agencies. Acceptance of these special funds required state agencies to implement specific FERA programs, such as the Transient Relief Service and Rural Rehabilitation Division. Occasionally, the FERA would supervise the administrative appointments to state relief agencies.

The most direct federal control, however, was administered through regional field offices created in May 1934. Because most states had very little experience in relief administration prior to March 1932, the agencies they created frequently fell short of the administrative standards expected by the federal government. By November 1934, the FERA had established nine supervisory offices covering all states and territories. Each office supervised directly the relief activities in four to eight states to ensure their compliance with federal provisions. These offices were subdivisions of the Relations with States Division which was the primary point of contact for major issues of FERA policy. Robert H. Hinckley, first director of the UERA, was appointed director of the western regional FERA office in 1935 with supervisory authority over Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California.

Prior to 1932, Utah's relief needs were met almost entirely by religious and charitable organizations, and county and municipal governments. Federal loans to states for emergency relief first became available in 1932. To obtain such loans, Governor G. H. Dern created the Governor's Central Committee on Emergency Relief for Utah, plus one advisory and two sub committees to help administer the funds. In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal offered federal emergency relief grants to states through the FERA and directed the creation of state agencies for local administration of the funds. The 20th State Legislature granted Governor Blood powers to create the new agency in March, and the UERA and its advisory board were established June 10. Between June 1933 and March 1935, the UERA eventually extended its services over six divisions and a score of subdivisions, including the Works Division, Social Services Division, Rural Rehabilitation Division, Transient Relief Service, Finance Division, and Coordination Department. Following the termination of the FERA and the creation of the Social Security Administration in 1935, the Legislature reorganized the state's relief agencies again, changing the UERA to the Department of Public Welfare (UTSVH01284-A) (Laws of Utah, 26 March, 1935, Ch. 69).

By 1932 the relief activities of local governments and private organizations in Utah had proved inadequate to meet the state's growing demand for public relief. On July 12, 1932, President Herbert Hoover reluctantly signed the Emergency Relief and Construction Act which appropriated $300 million in federal emergency loans to state and local agencies. Governor George H. Dern created Utah's first state emergency relief agency on August 24, 1932 to obtain and administer these funds. The Governor's Central Committee on Emergency Relief for Utah operated until June 1933 when its duties were continued by the Utah Emergency Relief Administration.

To assist with the administration of federal relief funds, the Governor's Central Committee established two subcommittees. First, the State Relief Committee consisted of twenty-five or more residents from various parts of the State who had prior experience in relief or social welfare. The main function of this committee was to set uniform rules and regulations and establish uniform accounting procedures to guide the counties in administering federal relief funds, and to supervise the counties' administration of such funds. Second, the State Projects Committee reviewed and classified all potential public works projects eligible for federal loans, and assisted the counties with their applications for such loans. The members comprised twenty or more business men, engineers, and lawyers well qualified to determine the feasibility of the projects.

The reorganization of Utah's state relief agency followed the creation of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) in May 1933 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Anticipating this change in federal policy, the State Legislature enacted an emergency relief program for the state in March. This program included establishing a State Emergency Commission, granting the governor emergency powers over state funds, and establishing a sales tax for generating state emergency funds as required by the FERA. Concern over the legislature's intentions for the new commission prevented Governor Blood from appointing the new relief agency until June 10, 1933 at which time he established the State Advisory Committee on Public Welfare and Emergency Relief and the UERA.

At its creation in June 1933, the UERA made up three major divisions: the Works Division, the Coordination Department, and the Finance Division. The Works Division managed all public works projects and employment relief programs, and supervised the Engineering Department, Office of Commodity Distribution, and Office of Safety and Workman's Compensation. The UERA's chief engineer was both director of the Works Division and head of the Engineering Department. Eventually, this division would be responsible for the Women's work projects which it adopted from CWA in November 1933, and the Drought Relief Program which began in May 1934. The Coordination Department handled information, complaints, mailing and filing. The Finance Division handled auditing, disbursing, purchasing, and research and statistics.

With the addition of the Social Services Division on April 1, 1934 to standardize methods for assessing a relief client's needs and eligibility, all UERA divisions dealing primarily with the county relief agencies were established. These divisions conducted their activities indirectly with relief clients by controlling and supervising the activities of the county relief agencies through the field inspectors, auditors, supervisors, or engineers of the lower UERA offices. Typically, the county offices retained all direct contact with the relief client, channeling state and federal relief funds to the recipients through local branches. The County ERA consisted of a County Relief Commission and Board of Commissioners which supervised a Social Services Division, Works Division, and Finance Division as local appendages of those state and federal departments. Finally, the Transient Relief Service established in December 1933, and the Rural Rehabilitation Division which began in July 1934 were UERA programs funded with special federal grants, and each bypassed county agencies to deal directly with the relief recipients.

While the organization of Utah's Emergency Relief Administration in 1933 mirrored the federal agencies created in President Roosevelt's first New Deal program, the reorganization of Utah's relief agencies in the spring of 1935, likewise, followed the restructuring of federal relief agencies during Roosevelt's second batch of New Deal legislation. Roosevelt outlined his changes in federal relief policy in a message to Congress on January 4, 1935, and Congress approved his plan the following April as the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act. Under this new legislation, relief cases were divided into two general categories: those of unemployable persons, and those of employable persons. Responsibility for unemployables was returned to state and local governments though in certain circumstances federal aid was available through the Social Security Act. To manage work relief for employable persons, Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA). In Utah these new policies were reflected in the creation of the State Department of Public Welfare and the Utah Works Progress Administration respectively. These agencies concluded the activities and programs of the Utah Emergency Relief Administration as did the Utah Rural Resettlement Administration (URRA).

Although Governor Blood's intention to continue the UERA as the State Department of Public Welfare was very clear, the actual transition was not, and between March 1935 and August 1936 three semi-distinct relief agencies--the Department of Public Welfare, the Utah Emergency Relief Administration, and the Works Progress Administration--existed in a somewhat dependent relationship with each other. Darrell Greenwell was director for all three agencies. Beginning in May 1935, the Department of Public Welfare began to liquidate all existing UERA programs, most of which officially ended or were transferred to other relief agencies by December 31, 1935. Several UERA programs, particularly the Drought Range Improvement Program, however, continued until August 1936.