Resettlement Administration (RA)

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President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Resettlement Administration (RA) by executive order on May 1, 1935. The new organization consolidated programs relating to land use planning and rural relief from several federal departments. To head the RA the president appointed brains truster and undersecretary of agriculture Rexford G. Tugwell, who recruited Will W. Alexander of the Commission on Interracial Cooperation as assistant administrator. The way the RA was assembled, its mix of activities, and the objectives of its leaders would make it the New Deal's comprehensive rural anti-poverty program.

The RA was formed as the New Deal was reordering several agricultural and relief programs. After the firing of liberal lawyers from the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA) in February 1935, Tugwell was ready to leave the Department of Agriculture (USDA). Heading the RA, he could oversee an independent agency with jurisdiction over his chief interest, land classification and planning. Accordingly, all such functions of the USDA, AAA, and the National Resources Planning Board were assigned to the RA, which was charged with retiring sub-marginal lands from agriculture and resettling farmers from those lands. Meanwhile, as the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) was being discontinued in favor of the new Works Progress Administration, its rural rehabilitation division was attached to the RA. Since 1934 that program had aided chronically impoverished farmers, tenants, and laborers, and by the spring of 1935 it had about 210,000 clients, mostly in the South. This assignment of rehabilitation, largely determined by Alexander's agreement to take charge of it, expanded the RA and set its course as an anti-poverty agency. The RA also received miscellaneous programs, including subsistence homesteads from the Department of the Interior, suburban "greenbelts" around four cities, and cooperative farm communities started by the FERA.

The centerpiece of the RA's anti-poverty work was its standard rehabilitation loan. Estimates of borrowers served by the mid-1940s range from 695,000 to 825,000. The loans, usually a few hundred dollars per year, underwrote farm operations, while additional credit might assist home improvements or the purchase of tools or livestock. To safeguard loans, credit was conditioned on supervision; the RA's field staff advised clients on farming methods and annual budgets, and required them to plant gardens and preserve their produce. Clients' progress was measured by increased family income and net worth, and improved farming ability.

Much smaller than rehabilitation lending was the RA's resettlement program, comprising about 150 projects by 1937. Some of the most prominent of these were in the lower Mississippi Valley, including eight plantation projects leasing government-owned land to resettled farmers under varying plans of cooperation. As Donald Holley has shown, RA projects rarely deviated from a pattern of individually operated acreages, had difficulty establishing a cooperative outlook among participants, and often experienced large cost overruns. They also drew heavy fire from congressional conservatives who condemned them as socialistic. In its 1944 appropriations Congress ordered all resettlement work disbanded, along with fifty-two client associations for leasing privately held land.

From its beginning the RA had sought authority to help tenants buy farms. Even before joining the RA, Alexander had helped develop the Bank-head bill of 1935, an ambitious plan for government acquisition of land for resale to supervised tenants. Although the bill failed in Congress, RA leaders hoped to revive and implement it. But the Bankhead-Jones Act that was passed in July 1937 was a severely limited measure that ultimately provided only 44,300 loans in eight years. Nevertheless, the lending program was assigned to the RA, which was renamed the Farm Security Administration (FSA).

Administered by Alexander from 1936 to 1940 and Calvin B. Baldwin from 1940 to 1943, the RAFSA expanded its array of anti-poverty programs. It promoted improved land tenure for tenants and encouraged clients to form cooperatives for purchasing supplies, machinery, or breeding stock. It organized innovative small group medical plans covering almost 110,000 families by 1942. But the agency's wide-ranging programs were not sufficient to reach all poor farmers. Indeed, despite repeated efforts to assist the most impoverished, the FSA moved increasingly toward selecting better credit risks as new borrowers.

The RA-FSA was never popular with congressional conservatives and they attacked it repeatedly. As Sidney Baldwin has pointed out, the agency never had an adequate statutory foundation. The Bankhead-Jones Act authorized only farm purchase lending, land retirement work, and rehabilitation loans using diverted relief money; otherwise FSA programs depended on the continued willingness of Congress to fund them. That willingness declined markedly as the New Deal waned and war priorities took precedence. After inflicting devastating budget cuts in 1943, Congress ended the FSA in 1946, continuing some farm purchase lending under a new Farmers Home Administration.



Baldwin, Sidney. Poverty and Politics: The Rise and Decline of the Farm Security Administration. 1968.

Banfield, Edward C. "Ten Years of the Farm Tenant Purchase Program." Journal of Farm Economics 31 (1949): 469–86.

Dykeman, Wilma, and James Stokely. Seeds of Southern Change: The Life of Will Alexander. 1962.

Gray, L. C.; John D. Black; E. G. Nourse; et al. (U.S. National Resources Committee). Farm Tenancy: Report of the President's Committee. 1937.

Holley, Donald. Uncle Sam's Farmers: The New Deal Communities in the Lower Mississippi Valley. 1975.

Larson, Olaf F., and the U.S. Bureau of Agricultural Economics. Ten Years of Rural Rehabilitation in the United States. 1947.

Maddox, James G. "The Farm Security Administration." Ph.D. diss., Harvard University. 1950.

Mertz, Paul E. New Deal Policy and Southern Rural Poverty. 1978.

Paul E. Mertz