New Deal Agency: FERA

Federal Emergency Relief Administration


In the early years of the depression, the responsibility for emergency relief rested on the states and local governments. About 15 million Americans were unemployed many of whom recently lost both their livelihoods and their life savings.

The name, Federal Emergency Relief Administration, was given by the Roosevelt Administration to the "Emergency Relief Administration (ERA)" which President Herbert Hoover created in 1932. The Federal Emergency Relief Act was passed by Congress on May 12, 1933, launching the fight against the Great Depression. The Act created the FERA on May 22, 1933, a 2-year program to provide immediate relief rather than long-range recovery.

Harry L. Hopkins

The FERA was handed over to Harry L. Hopkins, former president and executive director of the NY State Temporary ERA and a man that had 20 years of experience in social work. He won a friendship with Roosevelt and became one of his most influential advisers. Hopkins was a believer in relief efforts that put an emphasis on work. Hopkins' agency, in total, granted $3 billion to the states for wages on work projects.


The FERA had the responsibility of the former ERA that Hoover established to loan federal funds to state governments for relief efforts. F. Roosevelt realized that most of the federal government's relief efforts were often stalled due to politics. To prevent this, F. Roosevelt told Hopkins to focus on action rather than the complication of politics. The purpose of the FERA was to work cooperatively with state government, while providing federal grants for relief purposes. Rather than taking the local approach like the ERA, FERA gave the federal government a centralized role in economic recovery. Instead of loaning money out to help efforts, FERA allowed the government to distribute funds for direct and state-directed relief.


FERA's main goal was alleviating household unemployment by creating new unskilled jobs in local and state government. The three primary goals of the FERA were to be effective in their relief mesaures, provide work for employable people on the relief rolls, and to take a diverse variety of relief programs. The hope was that by providing many different types of jobs and salaries that were similar to workers' previous jobs the whole country would benefit.

Actions Taken

The FERA was allotted a $500 million start-up fund from the Reconstruction Fiance Corporation to help the needy and unemployed. Direct aid was given to the states, which funneled funds through local agencies like home relief bureaus and departments of welfare for poor relief. The funds paid for completed work, cash outlays food and clothes. Within the first 2 hours, $5 million was distributed and over the next two years, $3 billion was distributed.

FERA also oversaw the existing state relief programs. To encourage a better understanding of relief needs, FERA established minimum national relief standards and clarified information on relief problems, policies, and procedures. By November 1934, FERA had several divisions that all focused on different types of relief. These divisions included Work, Rural Rehabilitation, Research, Statistics and Finance, and Relations with States.

Transient relief bureaus were established in most large cities and alond main travel routes to provide transients with food, shelter, and a job if possible. FERA and the Seatle Salvation Army collaborated to provide homeless men in Seattle with shelter. Due to Seattle being located by the Pacific and Alaska, the transients who visited those shelters came from all over the US and even from foreign nations.

Impact and Effectiveness

Because the Federal Emergency Relief Act of 1933 mandated that FERA should end after two years, a new program was needed to take its place. The works of the FERA came to an end after the passage of the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act on May 6, 1935. The act shifted the focus of economic recovery from direct assistance to enhanced work relief and implemented a public works program under the Works Progress Administration.

Prior to FERA, few efforts were made to institute special projects for women. In October 1933, Hopkins appointed a director for the new Women's Division. The FERA also ordered states to appoint a qualified woman to head a women's division in each state agency. These agencies were to plan special projects that would benefit women. These agencies also ensured that women had equal consideration for work opportunities for which they were qualified.

The Women's Division of the FERA: Ellen S. Woodward

Eleanor Roosevelt, the country's first lady, was the first person to support the idea that there should be a women's division in the new FERA. She sponsored a White House Conference on the Emergency Needs of Women In November of 1933. This also occurred when Ellen S . Woodward first described the projects her new division had developed since August under the FERA that already had women on jobs in many states. Woodward was especially eager that women in her home state, Mississippi, have access to work relief jobs. Today, most of the county libraries in the state began as FERA libraries.

Reaction of American People and the Government

When the FERA kicked off, many of the states and local organizations did not immediately cooperate and accept the federal projects. Most states had little experience with running actual work relief programs and almost no experience in providing work for white-collar workers. Many Americans took full advantage of the relief programs provided by the FERA.

Quotation from June 11, 1934 Press Conference with Harry Hopkins, 4:00 P.M.


How many families do you think you would move?

Mr. Hopkins:

In South Dakota, I would say five thousand. It is fairly simple there because there are about that number of farms which are now owned by the State and in a section where they have had a reasonable rainfall, and which can be had.


Was that land taken over on foreclosure for taxes?

Mr. Hopkins:

Yes, and there is land like that in the other areas, though not so much, which can be used. In these cases the families will probably lease for the first year or two, with an option to buy.

MLA Works Cited Citations

  • "America's Great Depression and Roosevelt's New Deal." Omeka RSS. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.
  • Deeben, John P. "Correspondence Files of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration." Prologue Magazine. The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Fall 2012. Web. 14 Feb. 2016.
  • "Essay: The Federal Emergency Relief Administration." ::: Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) Collection :::. Web. 14 Feb. 2016.
  • "Essay: The Federal Emergency Relief Administration." ::: Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) Collection :::. University of Washington Libraries, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2016.
  • "Federal Emergency Relief Administration." Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Web. 12 Feb. 2016.
  • Kennedy, David M., and Lizabeth Cohen. The American Pageant. 13th ed. Print.
  • "Women's Work Relief in the Great Depression." Women's Work Relief in the Great Depression. Web. 14 Feb. 2016.

Cameron Dion and Nazirah Ahmad