Original Document
Original Document
Lorena A. Hickok, Report to Harry Hopkins on Relief Efforts in Eastern Pennsylvania, August 6, 1933.

Hurley Wright Building
1800 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
August 6, 1933.

Dear Mr. Hopkins:

Since we have not discussed as yet the form my reports to you are to take, I'm going to give you the first one in the form of a letter, telling you where I've been and' what I've heard this last week.

Part of last Tuesday, I spent in Harrisburg, laying out my itinerary, listening to the kickers as they came into the offices of the State Emergency Relief Board, and interviewing Dave Fernsler, chief correspondent of the Associated Press for Pennsylvania, and a couple of representatives of the American Friends' Service Committee. I was in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Thursday, and part of Friday, making a trip out into Delaware County Thursday afternoon. Friday night and Saturday morning I was in Northampton county, motoring with the county director, M. M. Daine, over to Bethlehem and about the county Saturday morning. I arrived in Scranton last night, and today I saw Governor and Mrs. Pinchot, at Milford.

In the last week I have visited a couple of dozen families on relief in the various places where I've been. Yesterday I saw one family that has been off for six weeks and will have to go back on relief. I've interviewed a Morgan partner (Edw. Hopkinson, Drexel and Co, Philadelphia) a left wing Socialist editor, a real estate man, the burgess, or mayor, of a little factory town, the managing editor of the Philadelphia Record, some social workers, the Republican Party chairman of Northampton county, (who indicated a tendency to turn Socialist) and the secretary and president of the unemployed league, in Northampton county. Also, of course, Governor and Mrs. Pinchot today. I've had some casual talks, too. For instance, the taxi driver who took me to Milford today.

On the whole, I have encountered little dissatisfaction with the way the relief is administered or with its adequacy-which is rather surprising considering the fact that in some cases it is pitiably small. In Philadelphia I heard nothing but praise. Even David Schick, the left-wing Socialist:, whose chief complaint was that it wasn't uniform-that in some counties it was good and in some counties not so good-said he thought it was being handled excellently in Philadelphia, and that Philadelphia ought to be taken as a model for the rest of the state.

Dave Fernsler, the Associated Press man in Harrisburg, said there has been a good deal of politics mixed up in it a few months ago and some scandals, but he thought that situation had now cleared up pretty much. The Philadelphia Record has gone out and investigated complaints that they received and has usually found that there was little justification. The Northampton county Republican chairman thinks there ought to be more "made work", but blames the lack of it on local politicians "who haven't any imaginations." Governor Pinchot and Miss Mary Wright, Eric Biddle's secretary, who sees the people who come into state headquarters with kicks, think that there is too much of a tendency on the part of those actually in contact with the unemployed to treat them as they would the indigent-"problem cases"-they encounter while with private agencies in normal times. Miss Wright cited the case of a woman in Harrisburg whose relief, she said, was cut off on grounds of moral turpitude because she happened to be living rent free-and those on relief get no rent allowance in Pennsylvania-with an unmarried couple. She said she interceded, and that they finally agreed to pay the woman half the relief to which she was entitled. I have not myself encountered that attitude. The case workers and supervisors I've seen would be more inclined to lean over backwards in the opposite direction. And anyway they're too busy to stop and make "problems" out of their cases. In Media I met a supervisor who, with one assistant, has had as many as 800 families to look after at one time, and who has spent days and nights trying to figure out how to get relief to people who need it and won't ask for it. She is giving cash, out of a fund from a private agency, to some of her exceptionally high class people-a lawyer and his family, for instance, and a husband and wife, both of whom are university graduates-to spare them the humiliation of presenting food orders at the grocery, and she has gone to the greatest amount of trouble imaginable to keep secret the fact that they are getting relief.

The chief dissatisfaction seems to be with the kind of relief, rather than with its adequacy or the way in which the recipients are treated. Food orders are not popular. Among the recipients I've heard complaints ranging all the way from the common one that the grocers "short-weight" them and that they themselves could do better if they had the cash and could "shop around" to that of members of the Unemployed League that receiving food orders make them feel like "charity cases." Most of the people I've interviewed outside the Relief Administration are opposed to them, and so are many of those in the Administration. The feeling seems to be every American should have the right to earn the money for relief, receive it in cash and spend it as he sees fit. "These aren't children", you hear over and over again. "They're self-respecting citizens who, through no fault of their own, are temporarily on relief. The vast majority of them have always managed their own affairs, can be trusted with cash–however, little they're going to get to live on-and should be." You've no doubt heard the arguments on the other side many times-that they wouldn't spend it for food, and that food is more necessary than shelter, etc. One old Negro in Philadelphia did volunteer the statement that, while he and his wife could undoubtedly get along better if they had cash instead of food orders, many of his race were so irresponsible that it was better for them to have food orders, and that, therefore, he and his wife didn't feel like complaining.

The rent situation is bad, of course, as it apparently is everywhere. Everybody worries about it-the people on relief, the people administering relief, and the poor landlords. In the hope of getting some ideas, I went to see Oscar Stern, President of the Realty Board in South Philadelphia, where a great majority or those on relief live. It's a sad tale-thousands of landlords have lost their property for non-payment of interest and taxes. They've been having sheriff's sales at the rate of 1,300 a month in Philadelphia but that, of course, includes home owners who have lost their homes. His only suggestion was that landlords whose tenants on relief cannot pay rent be exempt from taxes, on the ground that they are already being heavily taxed for relief, but he observed that this would be almost impossible to accomplish. He sent me over to the Philadelphia Real Estate 'board, where, one afternoon each week, landlords come in and tell their troubles. Unfortunately, it was a very hot afternoon, and the place closed up early, so there was no one there when I arrived. There is a good deal of "squatting", in smaller communities as well as in Philadelphia, in abandoned houses, so bad that no one who could raise a cent to pay rent would ever live in them. The condition of some of these places is frightful. On the other hand, in Delaware county, some of the unemployed have moved out into the houses on abandoned farms, have fixed them up, and are raising gardens and chickens, and getting along quite wel1.0ne woman told me that, even if-or when-her husband did get employment, they were going to stay right there until they got" a little ahead". In Philadelphia I ran in to an Italian landlord who owned two houses in which were living five families beside his own, all of whom were on relief and none of whom had paid any rent for many months. Since his rents were his sole income, and that was wiped out, he had applied for relief, but had been turned down. The case worker told me she suspected his tenants of sharing their food orders with him-and that she was certainly not going to make any investigation. Up in Northampton county I ran into cases where unemployed tenants went out voluntarily and worked out the landlord's taxes on county roads, thereby keeping him from losing his property and earning a little of their rent.

There is developing in Pennsylvania a sort of union of the unemployed-the Unemployed Council, apparently entirely under Communistic influence, and the Unemployed League, for the most part more moderate. I've heard all sorts of reports on them. At Allentown, for instance, they went out and picketed relief recipients engaged on "made work". Dr. Charles R. Fox, burgess of the little factory town of Northampton, where they've been having strikes, said the secretary of the League there told him the Unions were paying members of the League to act as pickets. They are making membership drives, holding ice cream festivals to get money for their organizations, and drawing up demands. One of them, the Bethlehem local, was actually represented at the hearing on the Steel code, by a preacher, who presented their code, including a provision that no steel company executive should be paid more $50,000 a year. I had a long talk yesterday with John C. secretary of the Unemployed League for Northampton County, and I am enclosing a copy of the relief program his organization is about to present to the County Emergency Relief Board. I found him to be a rather moderate, sane sort of person, whose ideas on relief were not so different at that from those of many of the people who are administering it. One of the League's chief complaints, he said, is against food orders-"which make us like charity cases". He suggested the possibility of trying everybody out on cash and then putting those back on food orders demonstrated they were unable to handle cash. When I asked Governor Pinchot today what he thought of the idea, -he said it would increase the burden of investigation too much, and I suppose it would make that load a lot heavier. "All of us, whether we're radical, or whether, like us, we don't go along with the Reds," Ramsaye said, "have pretty much the same ideas about relief." He said the chief trouble in the more radical groups was over food orders-that the men who refused to do the "made work" would be perfectly willing to do it if they could get cash for it. "We'd like to feel that we were earning our way instead of working for food orders that are handed out to us as though we were charity cases", he said. Ramsaye was willing to concede that the relief budget present in their program (see copy) might be a bit high, but he implied they were willing to compromise if only they could get a hearing.

It seems to me that these organizations of the unemployed can cause plenty of trouble if they are not handled properly. Ramsaye, for instance, is right on the fence just now, ready to jump- either way. He and his crowd might go completely "red" or they might go the other way and perhaps be of some help in running the show, People like Ramsaye wouldn't ordinarily be "reds" at all. Ramsaye himself is a steel worker, likes his work when he has any, and earnestly believes in President Roosevelt's program. His only resentment seems to be against "fellows like Eugene Grace, who gets a bonus of $163,000 while the Community chest has one Hell of a time raising $163,000 for unemployment relief". Ramsaye believes there should be more "Made work" -for cash relief. "There are lots of things we could do around here," he said. "We could fix up the river fronts. We could plant trees. We could repair buildings. There's plenty to do, and I'd like to know why they don't have us do some of those things, and give us a little cash for it, instead of those food orders. We'd all be better off and feel more like human beings".

Curiously enough, the Republican county chairman says exactly the same thing. From him I got the impression that the unemployed in that part of the country are in perhaps even a worse frame of mind than Ramsaye would indicate. "If they're not in a fighting mood, they're getting hopeless", he said. "Some of them are getting so they just accept relief and never look forward to living any other way. They started off by fighting it-they'd nearly starve before they'd accept it. Gradually they're getting used to it. They'll never any good any more, many of them". He added: "If I were broke starving, I don't believe there's a case worker in the country could make me accept one of those damned food orders".

In my own visits, I've seen the other side of the picture, too. In for instance, I ran across two negresses, mother and who walked eight miles every day to earn, by doing cleaning and washing, a little money to pay toward their rent. They get 10 cents an hour for their work, when they get any.

You said you were interested in finding out how long this thing going to last. Nobody I've talked to can see any let-up. In the place, it's generally conceded that the amount of relief per has got to be increased. Food prices have gone up something 30 per cent. While I was in the office in Harrisburg, Tuesday, a grocer came in to see if something couldn't be done to make it possible for families on relief who were trading with him to get an extra allowance for coal oil, which they use for cooking. In his the food orders amount to 75 cents per person. He I sat down and tried to figure out how much food you could per week for-say $1.50. We didn't get very far.

Another problem now presenting itself is what to do about these people as they go back to work. Some of those families owe as much as $1,000 in unpaid grocery bills, back rent, doctor and so on. In some cases they owe money to their employers for company houses, for instance-and some employers gave it right out of the first pay checks. Ramsaye, for instance, got on part time at the Bethlehem steel plant recently. He and his case worker figured out that he should get along on his earnings, he was taken right off relief. But out of his first check, the word held back $8.00 he owed for fuel. He had to go back on relief. He said that he and the men in his organization felt that some adjustment must be made so that employers couldn't do that sort of thing. I actually saw yesterday one pay check for 8 cents. The man had $2.08 coming to him, but the company held back $2.00. Ramsaye's idea is that people on relief should not be held responsible for debts such as rent, they have incurred while on relief should be paid. "Only they'll have to give us time," he said. While there is a good deal of re-employment; with the result that large numbers of cases are being dropped, I believe many of them will have to come back. Yesterday I went to see some people voluntarily had themselves taken off the rolls six weeks ago. The man had got a job working on the roads. The job lasted five weeks. He managed to pay up $32.00 in personal taxes-last year and this year-paid a month's rent, the first rent he had paid since the beginning of 1932, and, of course, bought food. Now the job is finished, and, said his wife, "We hate it, but I'm afraid we're going to have to go back on relief". These people don't want to be on relief. They loathe it. The percentage of those who call up and announce that they have jobs and don't want any more food orders is truly impressive. But if their jobs don't last, or if they are expected to payoff their bills right away, what are they going to do? The Republican county chairman puts it this way: "What's the use of going back to work if you're worse off than you were before "

I doubt if you'll ever find time to read all this. Perhaps it isn't what you want at all. Well, the only way to find out is to try one out on you. I've probably gone too much into detail. That, I suppose, is because it's all new to me and therefore, to me, terribly important and extremely interesting. When I get back to Washington, perhaps we can talk it over, and you can tell me what I should have left out. Only don't tell me to leave it all out, please, because I like this job. Believe me, it's absorbing.

Unless I get orders to the contrary, I'll be back in Washington next Saturday night.

Yours very truly (and apologetically)
Lorena A. Hickok.

Credit: Federal Emergency Relief Administration 
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