There was a lot of discussion and debate over some kind of pension for the older citizens of our nation. One of the biggest problems that stood in the way was the financial state of our government. On the positive side, a pension bill would give the elderly, who were not as productive as they once were, a well deserved income. It would also remove many workers from the work force and give their jobs to the jobless mass of younger mass of younger people.

In 1934, one such plan was known as the Townsend Old Age Pension Plan. It was suggested by Mrs. R.B. Harper of Sheridan Township. She thought her plan would restore the country 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:

      1. They could not engage in any further labor, business, or profession for gain.
      2. They would take an oath to, and actually spend, within the confines of the United States, the entire amount of their pensions within thirty days of receiving it.
      3. 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.
      4. Have the act so drawn that such sales tax could only be used for the Old Age Revolving Pension Fund.

Our government was not sitting idly by, but was discussing some sort of old age pension also. One bill stated the state and the county would share equally the cost of the old age pensions. Another bill would derive the revenue for the pensions from a luxury tax, taxing cigarettes, cosmetics, amusements, etc.

It was generally agreed that persons over seventy years of age would be eligible for the pensions. One of the bills stated all persons over seventy years who had an income of less than twenty-five dollars per month would be eligible for pensions provided they did not own property valued at more than three thousand dollars. Married couples would be allowed an exemption of four thousand dollars. Benefits would be decided with “due reward” for conditions allowed in any one case, but not more than $25 would be allowed in any one case.

In March, 1933, the Old Age Pension Bill passed the house by a vote of one hundred three to five. This bill provided state payments of ten dollars to persons seventy years of age or older. People would be exempt if:

      1. They had not lived in the state continuously for 15 years, or a total of 25 years, at least 10 of which must have been continuous immediately preceding application.
      2. Assistance would not be granted to persons if the value of their property exceeded $1,000. If a person was married and not separated from husband or wife, if the value of the property owned by the husband or wife exceeded $1,500.

Still, many anxiously waited for their first pensions to arrive because, due to the shortage of government revenue, they would not receive them until 1935. This was done to avoid working undue hardships on any group of taxpayers.

Old Age Assistance

In the pre-depression and depression days there were very few nursing homes. When the parents became elderly, they usually lived with their children. In later years, the Old County Farm, or Poor Farm, came into existence. However, in the late 1930s the government started to step in with some type of old age assistance for the elderly people of our nation.

In the period from February 1936 to July 1937, approximately $149 million was spent for old age benefits. The average pension varied from place to place. As the pension bill was originally announced, it called for a maximum payment of $30 to single persons and $45 a month to married couples.

The following example gives us an idea of the average old age pensions paid to each individual recipient in the time frame mentioned above:

      • Daviess County $14.00
      • State of Missouri $11.43
      • For combined federal, state and local $18.00

— written, researched and presented by Wilbur Bush, Gallatin, MO