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Welfare Reform History
Timeline - 1900s to current
United States

Date Event

May 1932 Relief efforts traditionally have been maintained at the local and county level through-out most of United States history. But as the depression deepens, the first attempts to fund relief efforts through Congress fail. Local and state efforts to fund relief efforts are strained to the limit and national protests increase.

Finally in May 1932, Congress and President Hoover's adminstration came to an agreement to shift some relief efforts to the Federal level and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation is born.

The "Emergency Relief Act of 1932" is passed into law which supplements local relief efforts with 300 million dollars in loan money available to the states. By the end of the Hoover administration, 60% of all national relief efforts are funded by the federal government.

Note: This section has been modified due to input from one of our readers.

March 21,
Roosevelt calls on Congress to establish the Civilian Conservation Corps, a public works program, and a federal emergency relief program.

May 12,
Congress passes law to establish Federal Emergency Relief Program (FERA). Harry Hopkins is appointed to head the agency.

By the time the program ended in 1936, three billion dollars in relief funds had been distributed.

Note: This section has been modified due to input from one of our readers. The Reconstruction Finance Corporation passed in 1932 under President Hoover was the first federal relief in the United States and not Roosevelt's FERA.

Roosevelt sets up the Civil Works Administration (CWA) after concern that direct relief efforts was sapping the dignity of the people with a "gimme" mentality taking hold of the destitute.

Civil Works Administration (CWA) was closed down due to widespread opposition from the business community.

January 3,
Roosevelt proposes that direct relief be replaced with a government public works program which Congress passed into law in April 1935.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was thus started with Harry Hopkins as the agency head.

FERA was abolished and millions of recipients of FERA relief were transfered to work programs under the WPA and the unemployables were moved to local relief agencies.

Other federal relief agencies were also started this year such as the National Youth Administration.

January 17,
Social Security Bill was passed that included direct relief and provisions for unemployment insurance.

This bill contained the original provisions for the original "Welfare", AFDC (now Temporary Aid for Needy Families: TANF) and relief programs in the United States as we know them today. States would receive grants for administrating local and state based welfare programs with matching federal funds.

Bil allowed $18 per month for one child and $12 for each additional child.

1935 20 million people receive relief. "Unemployed Councils" and many other groups demanding help sprung up all during the 1930's.

1939 1939 Relief Act was passed that placed a 18 month time limit on an individual's participation in the WPA job program.

1940 Surveys of worker's cut from the WPA job program (due to the 18 month limit) show that only 100,000 of the 775,000 found jobs in the private sector within 2-3 months.

360,000 families are receiving Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).

1950's AFDC grows by only 110,000 families.

1960's AFDC grows by a much larger amount of 800,000 families as President Johnson's "War on Poverty" attempts to assist the poor.

1964 Economic Opportunity Act passed Congress promoted as President Johnson's "War on Poverty".

Johnson's social programs became known as the "Great Society."

1973 Nixon administration attempts to reduce welfare rolls by complicating the verification process.

1988 Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) act was passed by the U.S. Congress to assist the poor in moving from welfare to work.

1990 Purchasing power of the AFDC dollar drops by an average of 42 percent from 1970 to 1990.

Food stamps do not suffer the same fate since they were indexed for inflation starting in 1972.

1996 "The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996" becomes law. Welfare reform is again passed by U.S. Congress with a lifetime limits on receiving AFDC payments.

Related Welfare Reform information

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