Franklin D. Roosevelt

Letter on Appropriations for the W.P.A.

January 11, 1937

To the Speaker of the House of Representatives:

In my Budget message of January 5, 1937, I indicated my intention of requesting that Congress provide an appropriation of $790,000,000 for the purpose of carrying the Works Progress Administration and related programs from February 1 to June 30, 1937.

In general, the problem of relief has diminished with the extensive reemployment and recovery which have occurred in nearly all lines of business and industrial activity. At the beginning of the present winter at least 6,000,000 more workers were employed in non-agricultural jobs than in March, 1933, and of this number more than 1,000,000 have found jobs with private industry during the past year. In my message of March 18, 1936, I stated:

"The ultimate cost of the Federal works program will thus be determined by private enterprise. Federal assistance which arose as a result of industrial disemployment can be terminated if industry itself removes the underlying conditions. Should industry cooperatively achieve the goal of reemployment, the appropriation of $1,500,000,000, together with the unexpended balances of previous appropriations, will suffice to carry the Federal works program through the Fiscal Year 1937. Only if industry fails to reduce substantially the number of those now out of work will another appropriation and further plans and policies be necessary."

Many private enterprises have cooperated and I hope that there will be further sustained efforts on the part of private employers. Great assistance can be given to the Government if all private employers in every part of the country will seek, in so far as they reasonably can, to obtain additional workers from the relief rolls. In this connection it is worth noting that by far the larger part of those on the relief rolls fall into the category of unskilled workers.

As a result of the natural increase in our population, each year at least 400,000 new workers are seeking work, and this number of new jobs annually is necessary simply to prevent an increase in unemployment.

Certain other facts are worth noting. The tendency toward a longer work week has had an extremely important effect on reemployment. Hours of work in manufacturing industries, as shown by the Bureau of Labor Statistics index, averaged 33.3 hours per week in September, 1934. That average has increased by 20 percent, to more than 40 hours per week in October, 1936.

While among most industries and most employers the maximum hours established under the National Recovery Act have not been greatly increased, it is worth noting that in some industries and among some employers the former maximum hours have been unreasonably increased. Every action of an employer along these lines obviously tends toward the stepping up of production without an equivalent stepping up of employment. It is not unfair to say that these employers who are working their employees unreasonably long hours are failing to cooperate with the Government and their fellow citizens in putting people back to work.

In March, 1936, more than 3,400,000 employable persons were provided for by the Works Program, not including the Civilian Conservation Corps. At the present time, as a result of an exhaustive review of the needs of the families of workers on the works program, we have found that it will be necessary, during the winter months, to provide employment for at least 2,580,000 workers, of which number 250,000 will receive employment from funds appropriated in the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935. This represents a net reduction of more than 800,000 since last March. Further reductions will be made in the spring and summer, at the time of seasonal increases in private employment.

An unforeseen factor in Federal expenditures for the relief of destitution has been the drought, which laid waste a large area of the country, and brought disaster to hundreds of thousands of farm families. During last summer and fall, an emergency program was developed to provide employment for the most destitute of the stricken families. With the advent of winter, about 250,000 of these families are being transferred from work projects to the Resettlement Administration, which will provide them with direct grants for subsistence through the winter, and make other provisions to get them started on an independent basis when the planting season arrives.

Since the balance of the present appropriation of $1,425,000,000 for relief and work relief will be barely sufficient to finance this program through the month of January, I recommend that the Congress provide a supplemental appropriation of $790,000,000 for this purpose for the remainder of the fiscal year 1937.

We have promised that the men, women and children of America who are destitute through no fault of their own shall not be neglected. Before the end of this fiscal year I shall make specific recommendations to the Congress, defining in detail my views relative to the continuing problem of unemployment relief and its administration in 1938.


Franklin D. Roosevelt, Letter on Appropriations for the W.P.A. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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