By 1932 there were 17 states which had adopted an old age pension plan and they claimed it was cheaper in the long run than the poorhouse plan. Now, Missouri voters elected to pass a proposed amendment to the state constitution to permit the legislature to pass a law to provide a pension for the aged. It was also looked on favorably because it would make these seniors feel more worthy than going to the poorhouse.
At this time, there were 10 million unemployed men and it was believed four million of this number had reached the age they wouldn’t be taken back into industry. These men had to have a way to provide for their families. Many elderly people were still married and this new measure would allow them to stay together and keep their self respect. A great lapse of time would pass before the plan would become law.
In 1933, our government came up with a plan to help the elderly by means of old age assistance. One of the bills declared the state and the county would share equally the cost of the pensions. Another bill stated the pensions would be paid from luxury taxes, cigarette taxes, cosmetics, etc.
Most people favored the plan because it provided senior citizens 70 years or older who had an income less than $25 per month with a pension, provided they didn’t own property valued at more than $3,000. Not more than $25 would be allowed in any one case. However, the government claimed they had a shortage of money and it was possible the money might be put off until July 1935. It was suggested our governor appoint a commission of five to study methods of financing the pensions.
In March 1933, the house sent a bill to the Senate concerning the pension and it passed with a vote of 103 to five.
People 70 years or older were to be paid $10 a month. Two of it’s stipulations were:
- An applicant must have resided continuously in the state for15 years, or a total of 25 years, at least 10 of which must have been continuous immediately receiving the application.
- Assistance would not be granted to persons if the value of their property exceeded $1,000, if married and not separated from husband and wife, or if the value of the property owned by a husband and wife exceed $1,500.
In 1934, the old age pension was still being discussed. Two positive things that would originate from it was the fact it would give an income to the elderly who where not as productive as they once were, and would remove many workers from the work force and give their jobs to the younger and jobless workers. Mrs. R.B. Harper of Sheridan township suggested a plan that would restore the county to a prosperous financial condition, and had hopes to organize a club in Daviess County. Her husband, a retired physician, Dr. F.E. Townsend, had been responsible for writing the bill. Four of it’s provisions were:
- They could not engage in any further labor, business, or professional gain.
- They would take an oath to, and actually spend, within the confines of the United States, the entire amount of their pensions within 30 days of receiving it.
- They must have the National Government create a revolving fund by levying a general sales tax. The rates were to be just high enough to produce the amount necessary to keep the Old Age Revolving Fund adequate to pay the monthly expenses.
- Have the act so drawn that such sales tax could only be used for the Old Age Revolving Pension Plan.
In September, 1935, a law was passed which enables individuals who were age 70 or more to qualify for old age assistance. For several days after its passing, elderly people went to the courthouse and waited in line for their turn to sign up for this relief money.
Two verifications as to the applicant’s age was needed which could be their Bibles, marriage certificates, life insurance policies, and other credentials. A complete life’s history was required on the application blank which was very time consuming. In less than two weeks, over 200 applicants had been filed with the Daviess County Pension Board and it was predicted the application for it would surpass the 400 mark. The oldest lady to apply was 92.
The pensioners had been led to believe they would get approximately $30 a month for single people and $45 dollars a month for married couples, but they were now informed the pension would only be three or four dollars monthly. This was due to the fact the old age pension department only estimated approximately 48,000 would be eligible for the assistance in Missouri, but a census estimated over 145,000 would qualify for the program. Forty-seven state investigators began work throughout the state checking eligibility of pension applicants.
At this point, 78,000 applications for assistance had been filed with the state. If all the applicants proved eligible, the individual’s share would be less than three dollars monthly and over a 15 month period. The pensions were also going to be held back for a period of three months.
In brief, the pensions would range from $7 to $12 monthly; however, since the pensioners had to wait three months for their first three checks, the first checks would be for $21 to $36. It also stated that inmates of county infirmaries had the right to make application for the assistance and were entitled to the same compensation as any other person possessing the necessary qualifications.
Some of the facts in regard to the pensions were:
1. All persons over 70 years of age weren’t eligible for assistance, and it was under certain conditions such as the following examples:
- the person must be incapacitated from earning a livelihood and without any means of support
- must be a citizen of the United States
- must not at the time of application be an inmate of any prison, jail, insane asylum, etc.
2. A person had to reside in the state five years or more within the nine years preceding application for assistance and for one year next preceding the date of application for assistance.
3. Earnings of the applicant which did not exceed $150 in any calendar year would not be considered.
After some time, an investigation was made in regard to the pensions only to find they had been misused. The pension bill, originally enacted to give families without a living income, a pension with a maximum of $30 per month. Its intentions were to give older citizens an income which would allow them to live in some sort of comfort in their older days. Now, instead of older people getting a pension as was originally intended, some received only a dollar or two and up to $22 or $24, but the higher figures were only used in rare cases when the person was confined to his or her bed. At the same time, many administrators received from $5-6,000 per month.
The problem arose when the law passed by misleading the public voters. The voters believed they were creating a tax for the sole purpose of paying old age pensioners. The receipts for the new tax were not earmarked for pensions or other forms of relief.
The whole amount collected which was approximately $2,000,000 a month went to the general fund which one-third of all receipts were automatically taken for the school fund, and not one dollar of the increased revenue was earmarked for old age and relief. Thus, the yearly increase of $22,000,000 in taxes only allowed approximately $10,000,000 to pay old age pensions and for the relief of crippled children.
By 1935, both temporary and permanent relief jobs had been established; however, many of these programs were abused. People driving fancy cars drove to relief quarters to pick up their relief supplies. Many jobless people had found jobs, but still remained on the relief rolls; other families had one working member while the rest of the family stayed on relief.
Changes had been made in the relief programs. Now, with the exception of the crippled and the handicapped people, recipients were required to work out their relief checks. Men could mix grasshopper poison or do street work. Women could help can the vegetables grown in the relief gardens which could be served in school lunch programs.
People who owned dogs or cars were disqualified from receiving relief funds. It was believed feeding dogs was too expensive and that money should be used to purchase food for their family. Likewise, if they could afford to operate a car, they should be able to provide for themselves.
In Missouri, between Sept. 1, 1932 and Nov. 1, 1934 (a period of two years and two months) more than $244,000,000 was paid for relief by the federal government. This represents about $66 for each man, woman, and child in the state which had a population of 3,700,000.
In the Feb. 2, 1936 issue of the Gallatin North Missourian, it was reported the State Relief Administrator, Wallace Crossley of Jefferson City announced virtually all the state offices would be closed on April 1, 1936, as the state and federal funds were exhausted, thus, the Daviess County relief office would become a thing of the past and no relief given with the exception of orders for surplus relief commodities and the quantity of the surplus commodities distributed to each family would be very limited. Relief applications were no longer to be given orders to grocery stores and dry goods stores. The responsibility would fall on the shoulders of the local government and their relief would also be limited through relief commodities.
In November 1938, the amount Daviess County received for old age assistance had grown to over $7,000. There were 34 families with 77 children on the dependent children’s list. Also in the same year, a new bill was passed by Missouri voters to reduce the age to 65 for people eligible to receive old age assistance.
— written, researched and presented by Wilbur Bush, Gallatin, MO
Note: No photograph of the county farm or “poorhouse” which was operated for the needy is known to exist.