How did the New Deal transform the role of the federal government through the use of federal programs? 

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is no doubt that many who lived through the Great Depression perceived the New Deal of President Franklin Roosevelt as the beginning of the expansion of the Executive Branch of government and an equal expansion of the role and power of the federal government in daily life in the United States. That this was the feeling is evidenced in many news articles. For example in the Sandusky (Ohio) Register of June, 1935, one story bore the headline, “Roosevelt Urges Share-Wealth Taxes.” 

FDR himself declared that the government must be used to improve the social conditions of the American people and for the embetterment of living conditions through improved working conditions:

to put idle money and idle men to work, to increase our public wealth and to build up the health and strength of the people—to help our system of private enterprise to function again.

One government undertaking to put idle money and men to work was the Tennessee Valley Authority. This massive enterprise was envisioned not only as a provider of electricity, flood control, navigation, but also as a regional economic development agency which would utilize federal experts and electricity to quickly modernize the region's economy and society. A negative effect of this project and the dam is that while it accomplished its intended ends, the project also re-routed water creating flooded areas where there had been dry land, which forced many people out of their homes.

Many were skeptical of this expansion of the federal government into what had been private enterprise because it was perceived as government interference. Before the completion of the TVA, private enterprise had controlled 94 percent of the production of electricity, whil the TVA was wholly federally-controlled hydropower (today most hydropower agencies are federally managed). With the passage of the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935, many private companies in the Tennessee Valley were purchased by the federal government and government regulations were also passed to prevent competition with TVA.

With the Social Security Act, the government became involved in the individual's retirement. This act was passed as part of the Second New Deal in order to provide federal assistance to the elderly, widows, and fatherless children. The danger of this expansive program came from the fact that young workers provided for the elderly since who retired before the passage of the Social Security System. In 1930, the Supreme Court struck down many portions of the Social Security Act as unconstitutional, such as the Railroad Retirement Act and the Agricultural Adjustment Act.  As part of the Social Security Act, unemployment compensation, and welfare benefits for the needy and disabled established the framework for an expanded Executive Branch and for future precedent for social intervention by the government through the expanded role and power given by the New Deal.

Yojana_Thapa | Student

Primarily, the WPA (Works Progress Administration), passed in 1935, its purpose was recovery. It put men to work on jobs of public usefulness. It was the Federal Government’s most ambitious undertaking yet to provide employment for the jobless. The WPA eventually employed approximately one-third of the nation’s 10,000,000 unemployed, paying them about $50.00 a month. Unemployment decreased massively. Which is a massive change during the Great Depression. The program highlighted the production of works of art rather than art education, and it was the first art project ever sponsored by the Federal Government. The contribution from the Federal Government expanded and redefined their role. The government was attempting to put money back into the economy in the form of wages for the unemployed.  The Federal government purpose transformed into the one that gives its suffering people a helping hand.

Furthermore, the AAA (Agriculture Adjustment Administration), established in 1933, a relief, Its purpose was to help farmers by reducing production of staple crops, thus raising farm prices and encouraging more diversified farming. It raised the value of crops. This system lessened the effects of the Great Depression on farmers, it slowed, the overproduction that was crippling many farmers. It highlighted the role of the federal government by establishing the idea that it was responsible for the welfare of its people. 

In addition, Social Security Program was established in 1935, was the most controversial, and with opponents arguing that it would kill jobs.  Some who opposed New Deal said "the authority of the federal government may not be pushed to such an extreme” . Many also said that "the Administration at Washington is accelerating its pace towards socialism and communism” .  Most importantly, Social security was the idea that anyone receiving a paycheck would receive "a monthly check" every month "for the rest of your life...beginning when you are 65.” . This supports the idea of the new purpose of the Federal, helping those that were suffering. It further defined the government’s role as helping hand of the public welfare. This act stood as a landmark of the new deal, creating a system to provide for the welfare of individuals.