and the American Temperament
by Russell H. Kurtz
Contributing Editor, The Survey
From another and official source comes this
testimony: "Under the constant strain of inadequate funds and
a mounting relief roll, a standard of relief has been pieced
together which is inadequate to maintain the health or well-being
of the community. The food budget is insufficient to maintain
health standards. The physical examination of children entering
school still shows malnutrition in almost one out of five children.
Families on relief are living in homes that violate the housing
laws, and in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. The failure
to provide a regular clothing allowance, in addition to endangering
health, is breaking down the morale and the employability of
the men and women on the relief rolls. Such conditions might
have been endured for a short period in a temporary emergency.
However these conditions now affect one fifth of the city's
entire population. Such a large group cannot be reduced to this
level of life without inflicting serious consequences on the
welfare of the whole community."
If relief is to be given in
sufficient measure so that families dependent upon it may have
what they need in the way of food, shelter, fuel, clothing,
incidentals, recreation and medical care, it is obvious that
cash grants are to be preferred to distribution "in kind" or
by order. Not only does the cash relief method, now used successfully
in a number of cities, save time and trouble all around but
it conserves the pride and morale of those receiving it. Further,
it has been found to be more economical in the long run as no
system has as yet been devised which can match the workingman's
wife in her ability to stretch a dollar to its uttermost limits.
|Even with the work program"the biggest thing
in the country"
At still another point should
there be a change in our attitude toward relief families. Earnings
on casual or part-time jobs, now rigidly deducted from relief
allowances, should be more generously dealt with in the family
budget. It is beginning to be apparent that our attempts to
hew too close to the line have resulted in our putting a premium
upon idleness and subterfuge. Other nations have learned the
wisdom of allowing members of families on relief to keep for
their personal use a part of such casual earnings, applying
only the balance to a reduction of the relief grant. Thus initiative
and resourcefulness are stimulated and the will to work protected.
American temperament does not welcome the thought that relief,
on a large scale, is to be with us for a long time to come.
The prospect is depressing to a people who are tired of the
whole "un-American" experience of doling out public aid to men
whose only request is that they be allowed to earn their own
way. Relief is defeatist: it chafes our national spirit and
humbles our pride. "Surely there is another way" we tell ourselves.
The work program should do much to make unemployment more tolerable;
but it still will leave us with a relief problem. The sooner
we face that prospect squarely, the better will we be able to
organize relief so that it will offend as little as possible
our notions of "a satisfactory way of life."