The Federal Emergency Relief Act, passed at the outset of the New Deal by Congress on May 12, 1933, was the opening shot in the war against the Great Depression. It created the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), which was alloted a start-up fund of $500 million from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to help the needy and unemployed.
Direct aid was given to the states, which funneled funds through such local agencies as home relief bureaus and departments of welfare for poor relief. The funds, intended to buoy up those hurt most by the Depression, paid for work completed, cash outlays, food and clothes. Within the first two hours, $5 million were distributed.
Harry Hopkins, a former social worker, was appointed director of FERA. Hopkins was a believer in relief efforts that emphasized work; the program also funded public work projects. Over the following two years a total of $3 billion was distributed.
When Congress passed the Social Security Act of 1935, the work of FERA was taken over by the Social Security Board.