Federal Relief in West Virginia During the Great Depression

Charleston Gazette
December 15, 1933

Federal Relief To Stop Unless Lawmakers Act

Blunt Ultimatum Delivered to Legislature By Administration Field Agent

State Has Dodged The Issue, Hunter Asserts

West Virginia's Needy List Is Largest in Nation, He Says

A blunt ultimatum that West Virginia must provide funds for the relief of its needy or federal grants will be stopped was delivered to the legislature yesterday by Howard O. Hunter, field representative for the federal relief administration.

Addressing a joint session of the house and senate, Hunter said the government could not continue to pour millions into the state for relief unless the legislature acted to absorb part of the load. He charged that the "most critical situation" ever faced by the state had been "ignored" and dodged." West Virginia, he said has a larger percentage of population on relief rolls than any other state.

Hunter added that if the true facts of conditions in West Virginia were known "it would almost amount to a national scandal." He asserted that "children by the thousands have stayed home this winter instead of going to school because they have no shoes and clothing."

Hunter said that other states have met the responsibility of matching federal relief grants.

Situation Not Fair

"This situation is not fair. It is not fair to have a state like West Virginia, which has the largest percentage of its population on public relief of any state in the union, to dodge this responsibility any further. In fact, the federal relief administration will not continue to be a party to any such arrangement. We have more than met our responsibility and we have been more than fair to this state, hoping that the state government would soon recognize an obligation which has been recognized by nearly every other state in the union."

"In this state of West Virginia there were at one time last spring one person out of every three in the state existing on public relief. Even today there are over 100,000 families or nearly half a million people."

"Ninety-six per cent and more of all the money that has been spent for public relief in this state for the last year has come from the federal government. The other small amount has been squeezed out here and there from local communities. The state itself has yet to show any evidence of a sense of responsibility."

$18,000,000 Granted

Hunter said $18,000,000 has been granted to West Virginia in the last 12 months without any money whatever being put up by the state. Repeated efforts have been made since May of this year to get this state to assume some responsibility. These efforts have been continuously met on the part of the state by dodging the issue and presenting various and sundry excuses.

"Not only have we poured $18,000,000 of relief funds into the state, but we have also made it possible to employ over 70,000 on civil works projects for which we are also paying practically the entire bill. This means an additional $7,000,000 or $8,000,000. On top of this, we are also distributing in this state to the needy unemployed millions of dollars worth of food commodities.

"At present, we are granting relief funds to the state weekly until you act, provided such action is taken promptly. This means that at no time do the people in this state have any assurance of getting this relief beyond the immediate week unless you face this problem and act accordingly.

Government to Quit

"The federal government is in no way required or obliged to carry this load any longer. In fact, we are pretty definitely convinced that unless the people in this state recognize this responsibility, there is no further reason why we should 'tear our shirts' in trying to take care of your own problem."

Hunter said the average relief expense per family in this state was 40 cents daily, and that represented 25 per cent of the entire population.

Upon inquiry by delegates, Hunter said the state should pay at least 25 per cent of the entire relief demands, and under present conditions estimated these at $1,500,000 monthly.

Prior to Hunter's appearance before the legislature, Speaker R. M. Hiner sent a letter to Harry L. Hopkins, federal relief administrator, stating that the state could not appropriate anything for relief or any other purpose until the supreme court had passed upon the newly enacted tax collection law, which released $25,000,000 in impounded taxes in the state.

Great Depression

West Virginia Archives and History