8 Replies to “Origins of the State and Federal Public Welfare Programs (1932 – 1935)”

These new state-federal welfare programs were “means tested” and “categorical” in nature. Means testing required the applicant to prove/demonstrate that their income and assets were below the level to be deemed eligible for assistance in a particular state. It was also a condition of eligibility that the individual fit one of the established categories, that is: to be aged, blind or a child living in a household without a father. For this reason, the federal-state public welfare programs were often referred to as “means-tested categorical programs.” The categorical nature of the nation’s public assistance programs effectively denied any federal financial help to poor men or women under 65 years of age or poor couples with minor children. For many years, this limitation of the federal-state public assistance programs contributed to the phenomenon of fathers voluntarily leaving a family so their children could receive public assistance.

To meet these needs, small formula grants were authorized to the states for Maternal and Child Health, Crippled Children, Child Welfare, and Medical Assistance for the Aged. Further expansion of medical assistance for the aged occurred in 1965 with the enactment of Medicaid (Title XIX) for eligible public welfare recipients.

States retained major control over setting the requirements governing client eligibility and the level of cash benefits paid to recipients

The basic shape of the state-federal public welfare system formed by the Social Security Act remained largely intact until 1973 when the Congress federalized the cash assistance programs serving adults (Aid to the Aged, Blind, and Disabled) into the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program. In 1975, Title XX of the Act was enacted, consolidating most of the social service provisions of the various cash assistance titles into a single program of social services for needy citizens, with a cap on the amount of money the states could claim as federal financial participation for the provision of social services.

How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Hansan, J.E. (2011). Origins of the state and federal public welfare programs (1932-1935). Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved [date accessed] from

Thank you for allowing many to utilize your expanded work and knowledge in this area. I am a MSW student and I am requesting permission to cite your work in a collegiate discussion regarding Federal/ State and Local policies which affects women who find themselves facing single-motherhood.

The framers of the Act also recognized that certain groups of people had needs for particular services which cash assistance alone could not or should not provide

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FERA was only a temporary measure. The Roosevelt administration understood more fundamental reforms were needed to prevent a recurrence of what had happened when the nation’s economy failed to provide the jobs and public relief necessary to meet the financial needs of unemployed workers and their families. President Roosevelt sent a message to Congress on June 8, 1934 in which he outlined what he believed was necessary.

Under the terms of the Social Security Act of 1935, each state had to first choose whether or not to participate in one of the new public welfare programs. After a state chose to participate in the new federal-state public assistance programs, it was required to submit a “state plan” that demonstrated to the federal government that its proposed program adhered to the minimal standards set out in the law, e.g., state-wideness, no residency requirements for recipients, etc.. Initially, federal financial participation in the cost of benefits paid to recipients was determined according to a formula which fixed federal reimbursement to the level of cash benefits established by a state. In addition, the federal government agreed to pay fifty percent of the administrative costs incurred by a state.