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Labor Action, 16 June 1947


Hy Phillips

These Are the Facts on “DeLuxe” Relief


From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 23, 9 June 1947, pp. 3 & 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


NEW YORK – The new low in journalism reached by the New York City newspapers in recent weeks, which have devoted reams of newsprint to lurid accounts of extravagance in relief spending, has focused attention on the growing relief problem here.

Governor Dewey, aspiring candidate for the presidency, has seized upon the excuse of “luxury” relief to order an investigation of the Welfare Department. He hopes to expose the city’s administration of relief by riding the victims of insecurity and avarice, the jobless, the aged, the .halt and the blind; in a word, the people who can’t answer back, the people who have been used put by the capitalists and cast aside to live on the pittance of a relief handout. These are the people Dewey will expose to pave his way into the White House. The facts of the situation will show that, far from living in luxury, the overwhelming majority of the people on relief are living from hand to mouth.

Rising Caseloads

The Welfare Department of New York City finds itself faced with a rising caseload as unemployed and veterans exhaust their unemployment insurance benefits and GI allotments. Young veterans are taking the place in industry of older workers and women with families. These are flocking to the welfare centers for assistance in ever-increasing numbers. Since V-J Day, the number of cases has risen from 93,000 to 126,000, so that there are approximately 233,000 individuals on the relief rolls in all categories – aged, mothers with dependent children, and those on home relief. Here we have a good index of the growth of unemployment in the city arid the inability of many low-paid workers to meet their living expenses in the face of rising prices, especially of food.

The Welfare Council of New York recently declared that the food budget of the Welfare Department is at least 12 per cent under the minimum requirements, and this is a conservative estimate. This is for food alone. Taking all other items into account, the Council considers that the average relief budget is 20 per cent under the MINIMUM required for health and decency. This, in spite of the fact that an overall budgetary increase of 20 per cent was granted by the department at the beginning of this year. During the past years, while the cost of living was rising, the budget constantly fell behind and only when it became clear that the greatest hardship was being inflicted did an increase come through.

A glance at any typical case on the relief rolls will speak more eloquently than a hundred statistics. Mr. and Mrs. Jones on home relief, live with their two children in a three or four-room apartment of a dilapidated house in the slums. The halls of the house are dirty and unlighted. The rooms are poorly ventilated. It is a cold-water flat and heat is supplied by a stove and an oil burner. The rooms need painting. Violations are covered up. All sorts of repairs are needed. The lack of decent furniture is all too evident. The “scientifically” worked out budget allows from 50 to 65 cents a day for food for the adults. The small children receive 30 to 40 cents per day for food, depending upon age. Is it any wonder that the children are so susceptible to disease and malnutrition in this household? Is it any wonder that they have been using their allowances for clothing and incidentals to supplement their need for food? There are no allowances for recreation for this family. They can’t afford to go to the movies, buy radios or make trips to the beach. They are supposed to vegetate into self-sufficiency, and are not to be treated as normals until they do. The truth is that the budget is grossly inadequate. Even the private agencies in the city have a minimum budget for a relief recipient which is considerably above that of the Welfare Department. The city has never maintained its relief cases on anything more than a starvation level.

Purpose of Attack

The newspaper attacks go far beyond the housing of 37 families in hotels. They represent an attempt to discredit relief for the jobless and indigent in order to reduce the budget still further. They are also but to smash the union in the department by red-baiting tactics. The city administration now finds itself on the defensive and publicizes some of the ' facts about the low standards of relief as though it was none of their making; as though the budget director and the Board of Estimate were not a part of the administration nor responsible to it; as though the budget director had not pared the latest budget estimate submitted by the department to a figure considerably below actual needs.

Actually, the Mayor and his administration hold the whip and wield it like the harsh “overseers of the poor'’ of olden days, it is the same administration that has saddled the workers with an increased sales tax, broken strikes and perpetuated the housing crisis. Having told some of the facts about relief, they have only , exposed their negligence and callousness in the treatment of the indigent. The story is beginning to follow the same pattern as during the depression days. The administration could never find the sums of money needed to maintain a decent standard for the victims of economic insecurity. Yet they were able to pour untold sums into the war machine for destructive purposes. How hollow this sounds today when they say they cannot find money for housing or the relief budget although we are also told that purchasing power is still at a high level. Or do they imply that they cannot extract much more money from the depleted pocketbooks of the workers while they relieve the “harassed” bankers with high interest rates?

Staff Shortage

The public assistance problem has been putting very great pressure on the staff of the Department of Welfare and there is now a shortage of 777 persons in the department, 221 of them social service workers. The staff is represented by the United Public Workers Union (CIO), which only recently succeeded in getting a $300 cost-of-living bonus for the underpaid workers of the department after a long fight. A social investigator handles a large caseload, often exceeding 75 cases, and goes into all problems of his clients, financial, medical and social. The department is utilizing the situation to exhort the investigators to greater effort to catch up with the work. The investigators have found it difficult enough to keep pace with visits and clerical work, let alone the many pressing medical and social problems faced by their clients. The department is beginning to tighten up on its investigations for eligibility. It is becoming more difficult to obtain items . of special need. As the investigation by the stated department of social welfare proceeds it 'Will probably interpret the rules more inflexibly and pry deeper into the privacy of the clients.

Not the least of those who are involved in the relief setup are the veterans. The Welfare Department maintains a separate veterans division, whose caseload has been growing constantly. The staff is overtaxed to handle the influx of veterans who have Returned from the Army to the post-war paradise of joblessness, GI allotments and relief handouts. Joblessness among the veterans constitutes 45 per cent of all males unemployed. What a commentary on the failure of capitalism to find jobs and provide for its defenders! Is it possible that the anti-relief hysterics want to include this category too among those who would rather live off the government than work?

The old argument that people on relief are “lazy” falls flat in the face of a more detailed examination of the makeup of the relief rolls. We then find that 54,000 persons are old-age cases, 2,000 blind, 28,000 women at home taking care of children, and 96,000 children. About 37,000 persons are in the so-called “employable” group, and of these, according to Commissioner Rhatigan, only 1,800 are fully employable. Most of the others are older, handicapped people who cannot readily compete in the present labor market. The department has its own employment service and frequently succeeds in making placements. Is it fair then to condemn these helpless people who exist on the lowest possible standards? We say that such attacks are only making capital out of human misery, the cheapest form of political trickery imaginable.

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