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Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill Relating to the Social Security Coverage of the Blind.

July 02, 1948

I AM withholding approval of H.R. 6818, a bill "To amend title X of the Social Security Act (relating to aid to the blind) so as to provide greater encouragement of blind recipients thereunder to become self-supporting."

I believe that this bill is unsound in principle, would not accomplish the ostensible purpose for which it was enacted, and would do serious damage to our social security program. This bill is contrary to the most important principle on which our entire public assistance program is based--relief of need. If it became law it would inevitably operate unfairly against those needy blind who are unable to work and who have no other sources of income. It would actually lead to reductions in the assistance payments of thousands of blind persons who are most in need of assistance and whose payments are even now far below that necessary to sustain them at a decent standard of living. Payments to these most needy recipients would have to be reduced in order to make available the funds required for the increased payments to those able to earn and who would be benefited by this bill. The most compelling reason for disapproval of this bill is my firm belief that the unsound principle on which it is based would seriously hinder further progress in the development of a sound and comprehensive social security program.

Title X of the Social Security Act provides for Federal participation in assistance payments by the States to needy blind persons. One of the conditions of such participation is that the State agency take into consideration, in determining need, any other income and resources of the assistance claimant. H.R. 6818, now before me, would permit the States, in determining such income and resources, to disregard earnings up to $40 per month received by the blind person, without thereby losing the benefit of the Federal grants.

Naturally everyone has a genuine concern for the plight of blind persons and a desire to help them overcome their affliction and attain security to the maximum extent possible. This concern found concrete expression in title X of the Social Security Act which singled out blindness over all other kinds of physical disability for a special Federal-State program of public assistance. From a superficial point of view this bill might seem to be of benefit to all blind persons and a logical improvement in the aid-to-the-blind program. However, a thoughtful examination of the bill leads to the conclusion that it not only would endanger the benefit rights of thousands of blind persons presently receiving assistance under title X of the Social Security Act, but would also, in the long run, retard a more constructive approach to the attainment of an adequate measure of security for the blind and other handicapped persons.

The bill would operate to the detriment of many needy blind persons now receiving financial assistance because in many States any new or increased assistance to blind persons who are employed can only be provided through reducing the assistance currently being granted blind persons who are without income. The capacity of many low-income States to contribute out of their own funds to the support of the blind has already been reached. This bill would increase the recipient case loads by perhaps as much as onethird by making eligible for assistance blind persons not now eligible because of their earnings from employment. Faced with the necessity of adding to their rolls these thousands of blind persons not now eligible for assistance, and with the necessity of increasing the assistance payments of many others whose earnings have heretofore operated to reduce their assistance payments, these States which are unable to make available additional money will simply have to divide among the larger groups of eligibles the limited funds now available. The result will be that the most needy blind persons in these States blind persons unable to work and without any source of income whatever--will have their already meager assistance payments reduced in an amount sufficient to permit new or larger payments to the less unfortunate of their fellows.

I fully appreciate that the relaxation of each State's present "no-income" requirement is, under the wording of H.R. 6818, optional with each State. But the arguments and influences which were brought to bear upon the Congress and led to the hasty last-minute passage of H.R. 6818 would, if that bill became law, be exerted with equal if not greater force upon the individual States. I believe it reasonable to expect that most of the States would soon conform their laws to the relaxed Federal requirement with the unfortunate results which I have described above.

I have recommended to the Congress that it amend all the public assistance programs in the Social Security Act--the old-age assistance and aid-to, dependent children programs, as well as the aid-to-the-blind programs--so as to make it possible for the States, particularly the low-income States, to provide assistance payments more nearly adequate in terms of present-day living costs. What is needed in the public assistance area is, among other things, a substantial increase--much larger than the inconsequential $5 recently enacted by the Congress-in the maximum assistance payments in all three categories in which the Federal Government will participate. Furthermore, it is perhaps even more important to enact special provisions relating Federal grants more equitably to the financial resources and needs of the various States. Only by so doing can we provide our needy blind and all other needy persons with a realistic measure of assistance. A bill such as H.R. 6818, which would affect only one of the public assistance programs, and which would operate in many States merely to spread even thinner the already insufficient amounts available for assistance payments, is in no sense a response to my recommendation and offers no real solution to the problems of the needy blind.

There is another fundamental objection to this bill. The aid-to-the-blind program in title X of the Social Security Act, like the other public assistance programs provided in that act, was designed and intended to provide financial assistance at a decent minimum of subsistence to those unable to provide for themselves. Necessarily payments under these programs must be made on the basis of a finding as to the need of each individual for assistance, and for such a finding to be realistic and equitable to all alike, it must be based on a consideration of each individual's earnings from employment and of any other resources available to him. To disregard an individual's income in determining the extent of his need for assistance negates the principle of providing assistance on the basis of need. Once this principle has been breached, grave questions arise as to a logical stopping place to changes of this character short of converting public assistance payments into flat, noncontributory pensions.

I am sure that the American people would not want to make so significant a change in one of the public assistance programs of our social security system without the most careful consideration of its implications for the other public assistance programs and for the contributory programs of unemployment insurance and old-age and survivors insurance. No such consideration was given to this bill by the Congress. The bill was introduced and passed in the closing hours of the recent session. No public hearings were held and no opportunity was provided the affected government agencies--Federal, State, or local--to express their views.

The avowed object of the present bill as stated in the committee reports, is to provide a "much-needed" encouragement to the blind to become useful and productive members of the community. I do not in the least question the sincerity of purpose behind this measure. I question, instead, the underlying assumption of the bill that a cash incentive is needed to this end. I am not yet ready to believe that persons thus handicapped are so lacking in the spirit of self-reliance and in a desire to be useful and independent as to require this sort of incentive. The blind, like other people, want to work and be self-supporting. The blind, more than all others, would not welcome the establishment of such an incentive at the price of reducing the assistance payments available for the most unfortunate of their company and at the price of opening the door to distortions in, and potential wreckage of, our social security system.


Harry S. Truman, Memorandum of Disapproval of Bill Relating to the Social Security Coverage of the Blind. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/232631

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