When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in 1933, America was in the darkest depths of the Great Depression. But Roosevelt promised a "New Deal" -- an America free from economic deprivation -- and he kept his word, launching major legislation in his effort to revitalize the American spirit and its fading dream. Between 1933 and 1939 dozens of federal programs, often referred to as the Alphabet Agencies, were created as part of the New Deal. With FDR's focus on "relief, recovery and reform," the legacy of the New Deal is with us to this day.
The following are 14 of the most notable Alphabet Agencies. How many do you recognize?
The CCC was created in 1933 and lasted for ten years. Its function was the conservation of resources, which it achieved by hiring more than 2.5 million young men to work on environmental projects such as planting trees, building roads and parks, and fighting soil erosion on federal lands. These men earned $30 per month and contributed to many of the outdoor recreation areas that exist today, including the Blue Ridge Highway. Between 1934 and 1937, this program also funded similar programs for 8,500 women.
This agency, created in 1933, lasted only one year, but it provided construction jobs for more than four million people who were paid $15 per week to work on schools, roads, and sewers. Some of these jobs were considered frivolous, such as raking leaves. But this program contributed to the morale and self-esteem of millions of displaced people by providing them with steady employment.
During the summer of 1933, the Glass-Steagall Act was passed, setting forth stringent regulations for banks and providing depositors with insurance of up to $5,000 through the newly formed FDIC. The FDIC successfully restored confidence in the nation's banks and encouraged savings because people no longer feared that all their money would be lost in a bank failure.
Established in 1933 by Harry Hopkins, a close advisor to Franklin Roosevelt, this agency was the first of the New Deal's major relief operations. It provided assistance for the unemployed, supporting nearly five million households each month by funding work projects for more than 20 million people. It also provided vaccinations and literacy classes for millions who could not afford them. Both Hopkins and Roosevelt believed in a work ethic based on payment for services and that "earning one's keep" was an important aspect in building the morale and self-esteem of the dole recipients.
Of all of the reform programs initiated by the Roosevelt administration, the TVA was by far the most ambitious. Created in 1933 for the purpose of developing the Tennessee River watershed, this comprehensive federal agency revitalized the region by building 16 dams to control flooding, generate hydraulic power, and increase agricultural production. This agency also provided jobs, low-cost housing, reforestation, and many other conservation-related services to the region.
The Communications Act of 1934 established the FCC as the successor to the Federal Radio Commission. Its function was to merge the administrative responsibilities for regulating broadcasting and wire communications into one centralized agency. Today, this independent, quasi-judicial agency is charged with the regulation of all nonfederal governmental use of radio and television broadcasting and all interstate telecommunications (wire, satellite, and cable), as well as all international communications that originate or terminate in the United States. It is much more powerful today than in the days of its inception, given the incredible growth of the communications industry over the last 70 years.
Established in 1934 as part of Roosevelt's recovery campaign, this program focused on stimulating the growth of the building industry. A similar agency, the Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) was also established. The FHA promised a stable future by providing the funds necessary to construct low-income housing. Today, percentage-wise, more Americans own homes than people in any other country in the world. More than 70 years since its inception, the FHA is the largest insurer of home mortgages in the world.
Established by Congress in 1934 as an independent, nonpartisan regulatory agency, the SEC was created primarily to restore the stability of the stock market after the crash of October 1929 and to prevent corporate abuses relating to the offering and sale of securities. Today, the SEC is responsible for the enforcement and administration of the laws that govern the securities industry. It also serves as a federal watchdog against stock market fraud and insider manipulation on Wall Street and offers publications on investment-related topics for public education.
Also known as the Wagner Act of 1935, this reform legislation created the National Labor Relations Board, whose purpose was to protect the rights of organized labor by legalizing practices such as "closed shops" in which only union members could work and collectively bargain.
The purpose of this legislation was to supply electricity to rural communities. Before the onset of the New Deal, only 10 percent of areas outside cities had electricity. Established in 1935, the REA granted low-cost loans to farm cooperatives to bring electric power into their communities. The program was so successful that 98 percent of American farms were equipped with electric power under this initiative.
The original purpose of the SSA, which was established in August 1935 under the Social Security Act, was to administer a national pension fund for retired persons, an unemployment insurance system, and a public assistance program for dependent mothers, children, and the physically disabled. Today, it is the nation's most important and expensive domestic program, covering nearly 49 million Americans and accounting for about 20 percent of the federal budget. However, as the population ages, more and more funds will be needed to keep recipients above the ever-shifting poverty line. Many claim that if nothing is done to adjust social security benefits and taxes, the system will be unable to meet its financial obligations after the year 2040.
The WPA, which lasted from 1935 to 1943, was the largest and most comprehensive New Deal agency, affecting every American locality. It employed more than eight million people to build roads and highways, bridges, schools, airports, parks, and other public projects. In total, the WPA built 650,000 miles of roads, 78,000 bridges, 125,000 buildings, and 700 miles of airport runways. Under the arts program, many artists, photographers, writers, and actors became government employees, working on a myriad of public projects ranging from painting murals to writing national park guidebooks.
This relief organization was originally called the Resettlement Administration Act of 1935. Its purpose was to improve the lot of the poor farmers so poignantly depicted in John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath. The FSA established temporary housing for Dust Bowl refugees from Oklahoma and Arkansas who had migrated to California in hopes of finding employment. In total, the FSA loaned more than a billion dollars to farmers and set up many camps for destitute migrant workers.
This labor law, enacted in 1938, was the last major piece of New Deal legislation intended to reform the economy, and it is still with us today. This law established the minimum wage, which at the time was twenty-five cents an hour. It also set the standard for the 40-hour work week and banned the use of child labor.
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