Temporary Emergency Relief Administration, New York (TERA)

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Because of the devastating effects of the economic Depression that hit the nation in 1930, New York State Governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt called for immediate state aid to be given to the unemployed, declaring that the purpose of the state is the protection and well-being of its citizens. In January 1931 newly reelected Governor Roosevelt declared that the national economic emergency demanded new solutions for new problems. Under authority granted to him by the New York State Legislature in Extraordinary Session, the governor created the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA) in October 1931, with an appropriation of $20 million for emergency relief of the unemployed. Roosevelt set a precedent by creating a new agency to meet a new problem, one he relied on during the New Deal years.

Roosevelt appointed Jesse Straus, president of R. H. Macy department stores, as chairman of the new agency and offered the job as executive director to New York City social worker Harry L. Hopkins, who took over the following August as chairman when Straus resigned. The TERA provided direct relief for approximately 160,000 New Yorkers in immediate need. Both Roosevelt and Hopkins were committed to jobs as a solution to the state's economic problems. The state legislature, prodded by Roosevelt, allocated an additional $5 million for work relief programs. Hopkins concentrated on creating an efficient and effective work-relief program for unemployed industrial workers in New York, one that could set an example for other states. In directing TERA projects, Hopkins made sure that they were consonant with economic needs as well as prevailing cultural attitudes. He insisted on socially useful projects that would neither replace or duplicate normal municipal functions nor interfere with private industry. The wages would be paid in cash and be set at the prevailing rate for the type of work performed. Because of limited funds, Hopkins required a means test for applicants and limited jobs to one person per household.

As the Depression deepened, relief in New York State became increasingly inadequate, due largely to lack of state funds. While Hopkins always insisted that the states participate in relief programs by providing the lion's share of the funding, he also believed that relief administered at the federal level was essential. Soon after Roosevelt was inaugurated president in March 1933, Hopkins proposed that the TERA be replicated on a federal level and that a federal relief administrator be appointed to head the new agency. Federal responsibility for relief, Hopkins believed, would also convince the public that the unemployed were not at fault. Two months after Roosevelt's inauguration both houses of Congress passed the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA) with an initial appropriation of $500 million. Roosevelt, relying on his experience with the TERA, immediately signed the legislation that would for the first time provide federal aid in the form of grants to the states to help them meet their relief needs. The president offered the job to Hopkins who used his experience with the TERA to direct his work as FDR's federal relief administrator and as director of the FERA.



Davis, Kenneth S. FDR: The New York Years. 1994.

Hopkins, June. Harry Hopkins: Sudden Hero, Brash Reformer. 1999.

McJimsey, George. Harry Hopkins: Ally of the Poor, Defender of Democracy. 1987.

Sherwood, Robert. Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History. 1948.

June Hopkins

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Temporary Emergency Relief Administration, New York (TERA)

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