• U.S.

RELIEF: Professional Giver

15 minute read

(See front cover) Acts of God bear awesome names. Last week’s was called Anticyclone. With His hand He described an Arctic Circle on the map of the U. S., and everywhere within that circle thermometers fell so low that only artificial warmth divided Life from Death.* Such icy weather found one out of every six inhabitants of the U. S.—20 million people — with no means of obtaining fire or food, except from the public purse.

Thus did the finger of God point at Harry Lloyd Hopkins. Also at him pointed the fingers of 435 Congressmen and 96 Senators, of George B. Terrell of Texas, of the Republican National Committee, of 4,000,000 Civil Works employes, of the director of the U. S. Budget. For in the midst of God’s great Anticyclone, an accounting was taken of the $900,000,000 which Harry Hopkins has doled out to fulfill President Roosevelt’s promise that no one in the U. S. shall go hungry or cold in the fifth winter of the Depression. And to Harry Hopkins last week was also given a sum of money even larger to carry on unemployment relief until May makes life easier. Without the latter, 4,000,000 people would have been turned off, payless, in the midst of the winter’s bitterest cold.

Runaway Horse. When it came to voting $950,000,000 for Mr. Hopkins last week, the Congress became practically a runaway horse. Congressmen knew that there was some graft in Civil Works funds; knew that the Republican National Committee had just produced a pamphlet called CWA Scandals charging “gross waste of public funds . . . rank political favoritism . . . downright corruption”; knew that if CWA which has been spending at the rate of $2,000,000,000 per year* were not soon ended, all the President’s plans to balance the budget after the middle of 1935 would be wrecked. But each Congressman also knew that in his district were hundreds and thousands of voters who were being kept alive only by Federal bounty.

“The Constitution is being violated here every day because there isn’t a line in the Constitution that authorizes the expenditure of Federal money for any other than Federal purposes. . . . I think [CWA] is going to start civil war and revolution when we do stop it anyway. It means … a never-ending drain on the resources of the Government. . . .”

Thus cried a voice in the wilderness, the voice of George B. Terrell, 71, Democratic Representative-at-large from Texas, serving his first term in the House. Declared Representative Terrell: “The others can go through on these things like dumb driven cattle if they want to, but I do not intend to do so. I won’t sacrifice my independence for any office I ever heard of. My constituents may retire me if they wish.”

His House colleagues agreed that next November his constituents would undoubtedly retire him when he attained the distinction of being the only member in Congress last week to record a vote against the new bill. Most of the other Democratic Representatives and Senators would gladly have boosted the $950,000,000 Mr. Hopkins asked for to $2,000,000,000.

Job. Important in keeping Congress from going that far was the account Harry Hopkins lately gave Congressmen of the work he had done. His report left two impressions at the Capitol: 1) he would never hesitate to keep relief going at as costly a rate as human misery demanded; 2) he had done a thoroughly professional job since last May 22 when he was handed $500,000,000 and told that he was the Federal Emergency Relief Administrator.

His first step was to pick field representatives, set up an organization. His relief organization today includes only 121 people with a total payroll of $22,000 a month. All his relief funds are given direct to states which scramble them with their own cash. His local administrators are state relief officials who draw no Federal pay.

Harry Hopkins’ second step was a research division to find out how many people were getting relief—something nobody knew. He discovered that last March there were 4,500,000 families on relief rolls, that the number fell to 3,000,000 in September, gradually mounted toward 3,500,000 (over 15,000,000 people) as winter came on. He found out that relatively there were twice as many negroes as whites on relief rolls. He found out that relief families had more than their average share of children; that the number of families getting relief varied from 29% in West Virginia and 27% in Florida down to 3% in Vermont and 2% in Wyoming, and averaged 11% of the families in the U. S.

Of his $500,000,000, half was given to states on the basis of their past relief performances, each state to receive one third of the amount it had spent during the previous three months. Some states were broke and were able to spend little or nothing. Mr. Hopkins hired experts on state and municipal finance to decide whether and how much of the burden could be borne locally. Of the relief funds distributed the percentage furnished by the Federal Government varied from 99% in Arkansas and Mississippi down to barely 10% in Connecticut and Wyoming, averaging nearly 62% for all states. The amount of state and Federal relief given each month (depending on the number of families on the rolls) varies from $60,000,000 to $80,000,000.

Those who want direct relief—the thing Herbert Hoover stubbornly set his face against for four hard years—have to register with local offices, are investigated to see if they are really without income, then are given orders good with grocers for food, or with landlords for rent. After starting in this way, Mr. Hopkins branched out and gave “work relief” to those who could work. A man getting $7 a week in grocery orders was asked to work on the roads or other public projects at the local rate of wages for enough hours to earn his $7. Said Mr. Hopkins: “We found that when we started work relief, many people, fine people, who would not come to us for direct relief would come for work relief because they said it was a job.” Soon he had 2,000,000 people on work relief.

Next step was to start the Civil Works Administration. The Public Works Administration was not getting people employed fast enough. Industry under NRA had not, as expected, soaked up the great puddles of urban unemployment. So in November CWA was set up and PWA allotted it $400,000,000 with which to hire 4,000,000 men and put them to work by mid-December. Snip, snip, snip, Mr. Hopkins began to cut red tape. He and many of his relief assistants stepped over to work simultaneously for CWA. (CWA’s own pay roll has 204 employes, is less than $30,000 a month.) A week after he started he held a meeting in the Mayflower Hotel attended by over 1,000 mayors, governors, state relief administrators from every state, told them his plans. They were to hire at once 2,000,000 people already on work relief. Then they were to hire 2,000,000 more through the Federal Employment Service. They were not to take them from the relief rolls because 1) Mr. Hopkins did not want all the unemployed in the U. S. asking for relief in order to get a job; 2) he wanted to give jobs to many who were too proud to ask relief. In most states state Relief Administrators were made state CWAdministrators.

With PWA’s $400,000,000, CWA was to use PWA’s wage scale: 40¢ to 50¢ an hour for common labor, $1 to $1.20 an hour for skilled labor. Work was to be started on projects which would have social value, which could be completed in two months. (At the start CWA only had funds to last to Feb. 15.) Building feeder roads in the country (not main highways), widening and repaving streets in cities were the chief jobs. About 1,200,000 CWA employes now work on such projects. Other projects: repairing and decorating schoolhouses and public buildings, improving public parks by building paths, control of pests (malaria, cattle ticks, etc.), building sewers and improving sanitation ditches.

Things had to be started quickly. Local officers were to suggest projects, state officials were to 0. K. them, without waiting for approval from Washington. Furthermore, all projects were to be entered upon without contracts which have to be passed on by many legal authorities, and thus slow down any emergency program. No stipulation was made that local authorities had to contribute money, but CWA made many promise to pay the costs of materials.

A special effort was made to find CWA projects for women and for skilled laborers. Actually about 5% of those hired were skilled. Many strange things had to be found for the white collar people to do. For example, last week in Missouri a group of professional singers headed by Miss Edna Haseltine was hired at 35¢ an hour, sent out into the Ozark hills to give grand opera—only it was not called that for fear the natives would not attend. Admissions charged in different towns were turned back to buy materials for local CWA projects. Elsewhere unemployed musicians were hired to give public symphonies, unemployed actors to give public plays. Said Mr. Hopkins: “Great art … is confined to a few people. If it is good for 20,000 people it will be good for 20,000,000.” Similarly two men with a reading knowledge of Russian were hired to study the effect of temperature and rainfall on the Russian wheat crop. Twelve others arranged the books on the shelves of the Department of Agriculture library, cleaned the volumes, oiled their leather bindings.

Other CWA projects now in progress: 4,464 Indians to repair their own houses on Indian Reservations; 1,104 to excavate prehistoric Indian mounds for the Smithsonian Institution; 211 men to pull up seaside and swamp morning-glories, hosts of the sweet potato weevil; 198 men to remove debris from Alaskan rivers so salmon can swim up and spawn; 94 Indians to transport snowshoe rabbits to those of the Kodiak Islands that need to be restocked; 1,112 men to eradicate phony peach; a group to wash Manhattan’s civic statues; unemployed colored girls to keep house for destitute families.

Graft. All this haste in pushing out Federal money has resulted in cases of padded payrolls and political favoritism. Last week PWA had 130 investigators looking into CWA & PWA frauds. Mr. Hopkins had to appoint Army Engineers to take charge of CWA work in Chicago and Los Angeles. In Colorado he supplanted a state committee that was not getting action because of political quarrels by one of his own administrators.

His chief field representative and investigator is Miss Lorena Hickok who for eight years worked for the Associated Press. She is a rotund lady with a husky voice, a peremptory manner, baggy clothes. In her day one of the country’s best female newshawks, she was assigned to Albany to cover the New York Executive Mansion where she became fast friends with Mrs. Roosevelt. Since then she has gone around a lot with the First Lady, up to New Brunswick and down to Warm Springs. Last July Mr. Hopkins, who is a great admirer of Mrs. Roosevelt, hired Miss Hickok and now she travels all over the country using her nose-for-news to report on relief conditions. Last week when it was announced that Mrs. Roosevelt planned to visit Puerto Rico in March, it became known that Miss Hickok would also go along to look into Mr. Hopkins’ relief work there.

Besides investigators Mr. Hopkins keeps busy a set of accountants who have set up books for state relief and CWA projects, supply him with complete reports of every cent spent in every state. He was quite candid in speaking of graft to Congressional inquirers: “On work relief we may have an occasional padded payroll. . . . I think in the main [Civil Works projects] are three or four times as good as the projects under relief. . . . Political interference has been a difficulty. I would not say it is serious but it has been a difficulty. I have quit getting mad about it. . . . I am amazed at the number of people who are trying to horn in on making a little money. . . . The number who have been implicated in graft is very small although it looms large in the public’s mind. It may be my own fault. . . . I may have made a mistake in kicking a lot of this stuff outdoors. But I don’t like it when people . . . finagle around the back door.”

Of the $950,000,000 given him by the new law, Mr. Hopkins said he intended to use $450,000,000 to taper off CWA gradually and $500,000,000 for direct relief. Congress would like him to use more for CWA but he came out strongly against it, declaring that CWA was an emergency measure, should not be permanent, should be gradually demobilized.

The Professional. The New Deal’s head of the Treasury is a scientific farmer. The New Deal’s lender of money is a successful promoter from Texas. But the New Deal’s giver of relief is a professional giver of relief. Father Hopkins was a retail leather merchant in Sioux City and Mother Hopkins was a devout Methodist, an active member of the Iowa Home Missionary Society. Harry (“Hi”), 43, the third of their five children, takes after neither. Like his elder sister Adah (now selling insurance in Manhattan) and his elder brother (now a doctor in Tacoma), he worked his way through Grinnell College. He was also a member of the state tennis team. He wanted to publish a newspaper in Montana, but instead he took his first job as a Director of Boys Work with Christodora House, a “settlement” institution on Avenue B, Manhattan. From that time on he held nothing but jobs as a social worker or relief giver—with the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, largest private charity in Manhattan, with the Reform Administration of Mayor John Purroy Mitchel, with the Board of Child Welfare, with the Red Cross during the War, with the New York Tuberculosis & Health Association. Governor Roosevelt made him New York’s Relief Administrator in 1931.

But Harry Hopkins is no typical settlement worker. He plays bridge and poker, takes a drink now and then, belongs to no church. He married a social worker, had three sons, was divorced and married again. A psychoanalyst told him he was repressed because he had been the middle child in his family, had had little attention. He makes friends easily not only with spinster social workers whom he kids along but with politicians, artists and writers.

Last spring he moved to Washington with his second wife and their two-year-old daughter, took an apartment in the Kennedy-Warren apartment hotel and set to work in an office in the Hurley-Wright building overlooking the Washington Monument. It is so small that it will not hold more than three people comfortably. It has no clock because Harry Hopkins does not want to know how late he works. Frequently he skips lunch altogether. Last week New York’s Mayor LaGuardia and the New York State Relief Director called on him. Since they had no time for lunch either they shared a bottle of milk and some sandwiches which Mr. Hopkins’ secretary had brought to the office for herself.

In Washington CWAdministrator Hopkins has made a reputation for himself that is wholly independent of his fortuitous political popularity as the greatest disburser of ready cash in the country’s history. Not eloquent as a speaker, he knows how to josh politicians, how to keep them in order. When he got the 1,000 mayors and others together to start the CWA he cut the mayor of Duluth short after two sentences by asking whether he was making a speech or asking a question. When the mayor of Chicago asked a question with a political implication he stopped him with the remark that the Century of Progress must be over if Chicago was asking for help. When the mayor of Seattle wanted to know whether he had to go home to make an application for a project Mr. Hopkins told him that, for all he cared, the mayor could meet the state director in front of the Lincoln Memorial. To a question from the mayor of Savannah about seashore erosion he answered: “You will have to ask us officially, and then somebody who knows more about it than I do will write a letter for me to sign.”

In spite of his lack of eloquence and his gift for wise cracks, his sincerity has so impressed Congress that one profane Senator after hearing him remarked: “If Roosevelt ever becomes Jesus Christ, he should have Harry Hopkins as his prophet.”

* All records for cold were broken in New England where temperatures as low as —56° were reported. In Boston it went to —18°, in Manhattan to —14°, in Philadelphia to —11°. Florida had snow and hail (which killed two cows). Dwellers on islands off the North Atlantic coast were icebound and had to be fed by airplane. Temperatures recorded included —4° at Lynchburg, Va., —6° at Washington, —8° at Richmond, —8° at Atlantic City, —26° at Buffalo, —12° at Toledo, —34° at Sault Ste. Marie, —10° at Duluth, —2° at Chicago, —16° at Detroit. Total death toll from cold: 40. *Biggest year’s expenditure for the British dole: £49,000,000 in 1932 ($239,000,000 at par).

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