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keep his hands off."

"I want to tell you very, very simply that your national
government is not trying to gain political advantage . . .
out of the needs of human beings for relief," he said. "We
expect the same spirit on the part of every governor of
every one of the forty-eight states and on the part of every
mayor and every county commissioner and of every relief
agent." But further he wished it understood that "no per-
son connected with the administration [of relief] will in
any single case in any political subdivision of the United
States ask whether a person needing relief or work is a
Republican, Democrat, Socialist, or anything else." Again
on February 2, 1934 the President told the forty-eight state
directors of the National Emergency Council to be "abso-
lutely hardboiled" in keeping politics out of the relief pro-
gram "even if you have to hit the biggest political boss in
the United States on the head."

"The proper administration of relief," he said, "is based
on a conception that it is beyond politics or the local build-
ing up of a political machine or a party or personal

Prior to these presidential pronouncements political in-
terference with the administration of public relief was
rampant in state and local units of government. The spoils
system strangled relief agencies as effectively as other gov-
ernmental functions. Merit systems for the selection of
employes existed in few states and only a few large muni-
cipalities. The President's message enjoined the use of fed-
eral funds to expand the preserves of the spoils system.

This was a bold and auspicious beginning. The federal
administrator and his aides took the warning seriously. Pro-
fessionally trained workers, in most instances recruited from
private agencies, were placed in positions of authority, as-
suming responsibility for the expenditure of hundreds of
millions and later billions of dollars. Never before had
social workers been catapulted into such responsible posi-
tions in public administration. Suddenly they found them-
selves compelled to assume leadership in interpreting
matters of public finance, public relations, political relation-
ships, personnel management, training and general adminis-
tration. All of their professional tools, methods, techniques,
and lore for the first time were exposed to public view. The
social worker now lived in a glass house a goldfish bowl.
The specialized faculties and skills of the profession had
lost their mystery and were subjected to a realistic scrutiny

not as well informed as the profession hoped, and, perhap
over confidently, believed.

The Federal Emergency Relief Administration and it
state equivalents adhered to the Presidential policy. Wit!
relatively minor deflections in several states, the relief pro
gram was administered with little interference from th
political operator. Local directors reaffirmed the policie
announced by the federal leaders. State and local publi
welfare employes were barred from activities of a politics
character. "Continued employment of personnel," Aubre
Williams wrote to the state directors on August 20, 1934
"must be on the basis of qualifications and, in the case o
relief recipients, actual need is the only factor to be con
sidered." Both for public welfare and public administra
tion these policies were an achievement of first magnitude
Compromises were made, of course, and serious deviation
from the program were inevitable, depending on loca
factors and influences. But, by and large, in the earl
phases of federal relief a working truce was evolved be
tween the functions of social worker and politician.

BUT this is by no means the whole story of public we)
fare administration since 1933. Social workers deal wit
the problems of maladjustment. Human beings are out o
gear with their environment. The responsible forces sucl
as industrial collapse which creates unemployment ar
usually beyond the control of the person involved. Or th
forces may be quite personal in nature and express them
selves in various forms of emotional and family difficulties
Whatever their causes or nature the social worker's ap
proach is basically to make an objective diagnosis of th'
problem, with sympathy and understanding but also will
scientific tools and methods. To that end social worker
all along have insisted that the administration of socia
work be placed in the hands of persons who have specifi
training and experience ; who can make objective investi
gations and diagnose the client's problem; who have th
competence to make accurate records of observations ; whi
can extend aid in the form, manner, and amount which no
only will meet the immediate need of the client but wil
help rehabilitate him to normal relationships within hi

Within the handicaps imposed by insufficient personne
often inadequately trained, uncertain funds, unprecedente<
demands, and recurring local political interference, socia
workers have had an unusual opportunity since 1933 t<
demonstrate their function. As state directors of welfan
and relief, as local and county supervisors of the variou
assistance programs, they have provided the leadership dur
ing a crisis of unheard-of magnitude. They became the dis
tributors of hundreds of millions of dollars, the employer:
of thousands of workers, from accountants to psychiatrists
They made the day to day decisions as to who should re
ceive aid, and the amount and the form of such aid. N<
political organization in American history ever possessec
such sinews with which to build a political or persona
machine as did the social workers in the national, state, anc
local welfare departments during the FERA period.

Early in the federal relief program social workers cami



harp conflict with the politicians. The vigorous
policy pursued by Mr. Hopkins and his aides resulted in
many disputes with state political machines. In several
places, such as Massachusetts and Georgia, the distribution
of federal relief funds was completely removed from state
control and made directly responsible to the federal ad-
ministrator. In other states, of which Illinois, Ohio, and
Pennsylvania are good examples, frequent quarrels occurred
with local officials, governors and legislatures. While many
of these disputes arose out of controversies regarding the
state's ability to appropriate relief funds, others had their
origin in problems of a political character the appointment
of certain persons to welfare staffs, the making or withhold-
ing of relief grants to certain individuals, participation of
public welfare workers in political campaigns.

Senators and Representatives, members of state legis-
latures, and mayors in dozens of cities questioned the social
workers' competence to administer huge sums of public
money. The basic issues in most cases were relatively simple.
The political machine had overlooked a great patronage
bonanza. Here were jobs, all kinds of jobs, at fair pay
more jobs than local and state officials had ever had at their
disposal. And the politicos had nothing to do about dis-
tributing these jobs. In fact in 1933 and 1934, in many
states, so literally was the attitude of the federal leadership
interpreted that a political endorsement was apt to prove
a definite liability.

There were of course many other reasons for unrest in
the political bivouacs. But most of these reasons were really
rationalizations intended to make a case, and a strong case
could be made. Relief was more expensive than ever before ;
therefore, it was extravagant. The men and women who
administered it were of a different breed from those who
held other local government jobs; therefore, "young girls,
inexperienced, just out of college" were dispensing great
sums of public money. Some dependents were smarter liars
than social workers were investigators; therefore, most of
the people on relief were "chiselers." The dependent popu-
lation was greater than ever in our history; therefore, the
social workers were responsible for pauperizing the people.
Of course, there were flagrant instances of administrative
incompetence ; therefore, public opinion reacted against the
social workers in general.

The results were inevitable. Social workers were placed
on the defensive. Their creed and technique never had been
too well interpreted, anyhow. It was easy to blame them
for the high cost of relief.

THIS reaction expressed itself variously. The employ-
ment of "outsiders" was frowned upon. Untrained local
persons were therefore more desirable than available trained
persons from another city. College graduates were regarded
with suspicion. In Massachusetts the civil service law was
so amended as to remove any requirement of college educa-
tion for civil service positions. In other states weight was
given to "business experience." Probably the most vindictive
reaction to the social worker and his creed was the law
passed by the Ohio legislature in January 1938, but for-
tunately vetoed. It provided that applicants for public aid
must file "poverty affidavits" to be renewed every ninety
days ; relief rolls were to be published monthly in a news-
paper of general circulation ; cash relief was forbidden ;
food orders could not be delivered but must be called for
in person ; aid was barred to those who had not lived in
the state for at least two years.

MAY 1938

Public Welfare



American Public Welfare Association

THE SCIENCE op PUBLIC WELFARE, by Robert Kelso. Holt.

Because, to a public welfare director new to the field, it
gave aid in determining programs and a bit of philosophy.

THE LONG VIEW, by Mary E. Richmond and Joanna C. Col-
cord. Un-M-ll Sage Foundation. 1930.

Because it is packed with a knowledge of people and how
to work with them for a better order of things.
THE QUEST FOR SECURITY, by I. M. Rubinow. Holt. 1934.

Because from it I gathered philosophy and facts to support
a new program in the United States.

THE SOCIAL WORK YEAR BOOK, edited by Russell H. Kurtz.
Russell Sage Foundation. Annually.

Because the series of volumes constitutes a veritable ency-
clopedia of social work.

STATE SURVEYS, published by various State Public Welfare


Because they present a record of what is happening in
public welfare administration together with realistic proposals
for more adequate service.

1937 BOOK


Merriam. New York University Press.
Because it states concisely the actual role of government
in social affairs.

According to Ohio observers these harsh and inhuman
provisions were deliberately intended to destroy many of
the social workers' tenets: the confidential character of his
relationship to the client, cash aid, no pauper oath, repeal of
the settlement laws. In this way the politician thumbed his
nose at the social worker.

Few states went so far as the Ohio legislature, but in
others, also, the political machine reached out to recapture
a lost empire. A few months ago in Pennsylvania, one of
the leaders in the field of social work resigned his office
rather than compromise with political control. In Illinois
Governor Horner's Council on Public Assistance recom-
mends that emphasis be "shifted from social service to
business management" in the administration of relief funds.
Colorado, with its "jack pot" old age assistance law, fur-
nishes evidence of how political manipulators capitalize the
needs of the aged. In Michigan, the last legislative session
adopted the recommendation of the Governor's Welfare
and Relief Study Commission, and enacted a public welfare
program based on broad and sound conceptions of the
needs of an industrial state. Politically entrenched individ-
uals saw in this program a threat to their jobs and suc-
ceeded in delaying its effective operation by calling for a
state-wide referendum next November. Elsewhere the con-
flict in method and ideals between the social worker and
the politician has been expressed in legislation, administra-
tion, or changes in personnel.

Conflicts in the states and localities reverberate in Wash-
ington. The FERA was constantly under fire in an effort
to protect its state directors against political forces which
were trying to engulf them. Quarreling with politicians
did not help the President. Compromise followed. In the


next phase of public relief, the issue finally was disposed of
by a requirement that the appointment of state WPA
directors be confirmed by the United States Senate. The
control over personnel was thus shifted from the adminis-
trator to the Senators and Representatives. There is little
doubt that this provision in the act creating the WPA was
intended primarily to weed out the group which had ad-
ministered the state FERA programs, a group largely in-
fluenced by social work leadership and practices. The final
step in this reversion is the provision in the social security
act which restrains the Social Security Board from con-
trolling the selection, tenure, and compensation of personnel
in state assistance programs subsidized by federal funds.
Social workers thus have been bested in the conflict with
the politicians. They did not build political fences of 1 their
own. They did not compromise, or not sufficiently. Fre-
quently they were not deft in dealing with the political
forces; nor did they cultivate sufficiently strong allies among
the non-political public, capable of warding off the con-
tinued political attacks. With the removal of federal con-
trol over personnel, many state administrators succumbed
to local political machines and to patronage control over
personnel. In a few localities merit systems were established,
but many of the gains made in 1933 and 1934 were lost.

' I ^HERE is obviously a broad area of conflict, but it is
A not clear whether it is between social work and politics
or social workers and politicians. It is important to know,
however, from which sources the differences arise, what
adjustments can and need to be made in the realm of
social work operations. Moreover, we need to enquire
specifically upon which issues compromise is feasible, or
even inevitable, and on which issues social workers must
not yield, even if the battle appears momentarily a losing

The basic factor in the conflict arises from the fact that
social work was once an obscure profession. In the last
decade it has taken its place in the sun. It now represents a
major activity of government. The social worker's field of
operations is largely in the public welfare area. The problem
is now a mass and not an individual problem. The nation
appears committed to a program of providing protection for
low income groups. The great risks of industrial America
life and health, jobs and income are to be mitigated in
part through social measures. The task of ministering to
the needy, sick, handicapped, aged and jobless, is no longer
the concern, primarily, of a small group who are the heavy
contributors to private social agencies. It now has become
the concern of the entire community ; of all who pay taxes,
of all who are interested in public finance, in governmental
policies, yes, in politics. Social work has become a mass
problem. It has drawn the attention of that expert in public
relations the politician. The vast sums involved, the large
numbers who are employed in administration these factors
alone are sufficient to attract the politically-minded. All
that a social worker has done in the past ten years and will
do hereafter becomes a matter of public scrutiny.

It is natural, therefore, that the mysterious mechanisms
of social service and individual case work developed in the
protected private field now are exposed to examination by
a public accustomed to former poor relief methods. The
contrast is too sharp for enthusiastic endorsement. It is
more than an academic question to inquire whether these
mechanisms can stand up under the pressure of a question-
ing public opinion, political criticism, and the hard realities

of our politically organized public service. No clear-cut
answer is available, but there is enough evidence to indicate
that something is wrong in the relationship between the
social worker and the public.

The cause of this may be found in two or three factors.
The first has to do with social work techniques; the second
with the failure to interpret the job properly. In addition,
it must be admitted that part of the conflict is quite inevi-
table and arises from the totally different conceptions and
ideals entertained by the social worker and the politician.

The criticism of techniques has never been very clear.
The training of social workers has been influenced unduly
by the problems characteristic of large cities. Insufficient
adjustments have been made to apply the technique to the
small town and the rural area. Likewise, the case work
methods originally developed for maladjusted cases have
been applied with relatively little modification to unemploy-
ment relief. Social workers have been far more capable in
pleading the needs of the relief clients than in the detailed
process of administration. Some of them have been placed
in charge of expenditures of vast sums of money and huge
staffs without adequate administrative experience. Persons
interested primarily in case work and social research have
been thrust into positions calling for tested executive com-
petence. Standards and practices established by social ser-
vice directors in public agencies frequently have been "too
high" in relation to local concepts of "minimum subsis-
tence." "Intake policies" have often been more liberal than
the community's ideas as to who "ought" to be given
assistance. Personnel qualifications for the professional
worker have been far in advance of what the community
thought necessary.

More significant, however, have been the failures to in-
terpret adequately the social work program and procedure
to the community. The reliance upon federal and state
financing and direction has removed the necessity of "carry-
ing the community along." The social worker has not
bothered to "sell" his views, professional method and pro-
gram. Under federal administration with non-local finan-
cing, these programs, methods, and standards were often
"imposed." Reliance on state and federal direction gave
social workers a false sense of security. When these were
relaxed or removed, the local community expressed its re-
action the political forces returned to control. The social
worker must now begin to follow the direction of articulate
community thinking, to gauge its force, and educate it in the
profession's concept of a sound social work program.

"T)OLITICS" has an unsavory connotation. We asso-
A ciate with it conniving, manipulation, favoritism. We
look upon politics merely as a system devised for securing
partisan rewards. To it we attribute all the waste and in-
efficiency of public administration. However, politics has a
function and purpose other than mere "interference." Poli-
tics and political parties are institutions basic to the Ameri-
can form of democratic government. Many issues and
problems arising in the controversy between social work
and politics are essentially political.

The area of operation of the social worker has expanded
rapidly into the political field. Where once his work dealt
primarily with personal maladjustments, now it includes
practically every phase of social life, from correctional
services, adult and juvenile probation, institutional admin-
istration, to the newer fields of public assistance and social
security. While these involve basic social and economic



problems, in a democracy political panics translate the
problems the people's wishes to the state. These are
subject to continual revision with changing social stand-
ards and public view-..

The politician the expert who is both the creator and
the product of political parties fears that the professional
worker will preempt his prerogatives to interpret and con-
trol political questions. He fails completely to distinguish
the process of administration from that of legislation or
policy determination. To him, the social worker's insistence
upon standards and training, is merely an effort to create

powerful bureaucracy.

He imagines the social worker is thereby creating a
'political" machine of his own not responsive to the legis-
lature or to the people. He calls it the "social workers'
racket." So thoroughly imbued is he with his own methods
md psychology that he presumes all persons or groups, even
those not in his own camp, are motivated solely by the idea
if establishing job tenure.

The American politician does not recognize or accept the
Distinction between administration and legislation, but it is
if growing importance. Whether we should have direct or
work relief, whether federal aid should be extended to
states, whether the means test should be used, what the
standards of relief should be, whether relief should be
through cash, commissaries, or orders these are fundamen-
tally problems of public policy and are political in charac-
ter. In a democratic state the elected officials have a right
to decide these questions. They translate into laws the
.oters' requirements. Political parties and political repre-


Industrial Relations


Society for Advancement of Management

man. 1923.

Because it gave a broad philosophic orientation as to the
functional role in an industrial society.


Harlow S. Person. Harper. 1929.

Because it gave a contemporary appraisal of the social
significance of a scientific approach to urgent management


Donald. McGraw-Hill. 1931.

Because it assembled an encyclopedic amount of useful
material on sound management procedure.


Daugherty. Houghton, Mifflin. 1933.

Because it emphasized the relation of the manual worker
to society under current capitalism.

1937 BOOK

l.ynd. Harcourt, Brace.

Because it offered in terms of one typical community a
view of the effect of industrialism on American life.

[Added by The EditoriJ


Metcalf. McGraw-Hill. Third Revision, 1933.

Because it centers on "the real problems" of individual at-
titude, and economic and corporate organization underlying
industrial relations.

1A1 1938

sentativo are the traditional instruments for representing
the citizen, the channels between the state and society.

From the viewpoint of the democratic process, therefore,
an attitude of contempt on the part of social workers
toward politics and politicians is extremely dangerous. To
recoil from political intervention is to overlook the essential
process of legislative and public policy-making mechanism.

THE very nature of democratic government requires that
it change frequently in response to the people's will.
Unless it can do so it ceases to be democratic. Government,
therefore, as represented by political parties and elected
officials, is highly unstable. While this flexibility of policy-
making is essential, its effective administration, involving
an ever-growing number of persons and social services, re-
quires stability. Neither politicians nor social workers
understand clearly this conflict between the necessity for
responsiveness to changing social requirements and the
need for stability in administration. This differentiation,
has, however, been accepted and applied in other fields of
governmental activity, particularly in public utility, labor
and industrial legislation. There, broad authority has
been given to administrative bodies to interpret the intent
of legislative policy. For instance, the legislature says that
every place of work "shall be safe." The administrative
agency, however, and not the elected officials, interprets in
the light of changing scientific knowledge what constitutes
"safety" and lays down rules to insure the enforcement of
the legislative intent.

In the field of social work this distinction is not yet fully
accepted. Until it is, the politician will continue to, regard
the social worker as a trespasser, when in fact this pro-

Online LibrarySurvey AssociatesSurvey midmonthly : journal of social work (Volume 74) → online text (page 39 of 109)