FDR’s Alphabet Soup: Records from the Great Depression

FERA

(Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works) Also know as the PWA (Public Works Administration)

1933-1938.

NARA RG135

fera

The Federal Emergency Relief Act passed by Congress in May, 1933, was the first step in the program of relief at the beginning of the New Deal. It created the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) which was initially funded with $500,000,000 to help the needy. Harry Hopkins was appointed director and as such developed the program. Over the next two years $3,000,000,000 was distributed. Most of this money went to Home Relief Bureaus and Departments of Welfare for Poor Relief.

The main goal of FERA was to facilitate household employment by creating new unskilled jobs in local and state government. Although creating jobs was more costly than “doling” out cash payments the psychological benefits of providing jobs was deemed more important.  The health of the nation depended on the self esteem of the family breadwinner.  The program ran from May 1933 until December, 1935.  In that period FERA gave states and localities $3.1 billion and provided work for over 20 million people, supporting over 5 million households.  Projects led to the development of facilities on public lands across the country.  The agency provided vaccinations and literacy classes for millions.  Funding ended in December of 1935, however, many of the programs went on absorbed into the Social Security Administration, others were absorbed into WPA from  1938 to 1942 and then into FWA in 1943.

At the California state level, the State Emergency Relief Administration (SERA) was created in 1933 as a provision of the Unemployment Bond Relief Act. In 1935, SERA was succeeded by the State Relief Administration (SRA). The agencies were tasked with alleviating poverty conditions caused by the Great Depression. Responsibilities included distributing  state and federal funds for unemployment relief.

Like the New Deal Agencies, the activities of the State Relief Administration often overlapped activities of  local, federal and even other state agencies. Consequently the organization of the SRA was in flux. Read Elsey Hurt’s California State Government: An Outline of Its Administrative Organization, vol. 2, 1939, for further information on SERA/SRA.  The California State Archives has the records of the agency in their collections.  You can find an Inventory of Records on OAC (Online Archive of California)..

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Cath Madden Trindle - CSGA Special Projects Chair
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