Jesse Isidor Straus: Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA)
The official announcement that Jesse Isidor Straus (1872-1936) would head the New York State Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (T.E.R.A.) was made September 30th, 1931. He would administer the $20,000,000 fund for the relief of the needy unemployed in the state during the coming winter. Frank Friedel, in Franklin D. Roosevelt: The Triumph wrote, “Straus had practically a free hand in organizing the T.E.R.A.” He named Harry L. Hopkins, who was executive director of the New York Tuberculosis and Health Association, executive director of T.E.R.A. Hopkins had already demonstrated his abilities in the field of social welfare. One of T.E.R.A.’s first tasks was to name a woman “of demonstrated ability” to establish a woman’s division. Roosevelt said that they “had been equipped with broad powers to establish whatever organization may be required to meet the emergency. To the extent this is possible the commissioners would enlist volunteer workers, and use unemployed persons entitled to relief in salaried positions to aid the large number of white collar workers who have lost their jobs.” An editorial in the New York Times on October 1st, 1931 states, “Nothing but a deep sense of civic obligation, we may be sure, could have induced Mr. Straus to make the personal sacrifice requisite if he was to respond to the Governor’s urgent invitation. President of a great business house, and responsible for the conduct of its affairs, with many other duties pressing upon his attention, he is ready to drop all these things and place his talents and energy at the disposal of the State. It is the very highest kind of public service. No office could bring such opportunities or entail such responsibilities. The work will be exacting and prolonged, but its successful achievement is made certain by the willingness of men like Mr. Straus to give the patriotic pleas first place. So long as this country can count upon such volunteers for emergency duty, we need not despair of the Republic.”
On February 22nd, 1932 Governor Roosevelt called a conference with T.E.R.A. chair Jesse I. Straus and NYC Emergency Work Commissioners to discuss the continuance of state aid for the jobless. On March 10th, 1932 both houses of the State Legislature passed a bill extending the life of T.E.R.A. beyond the next election.
On March 20th, 1932 Jesse said, “I regret exceedingly that I am compelled to retire from the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration. When Governor Roosevelt honored me with the appointment I do not think that either he or I anticipated the necessity for full-time services. ... it has been a privilege to share in the first State efforts to supplement local relief with State aid. I must now return to my own business.” Governor Roosevelt “regrets Mr. Straus’s resignation because of the belief that it will be difficult to find a successor who will carry on the work as efficiently and as energetically as Mr. Straus.” A March 23rd Times editorial stated, “Under his capable executive direction plans have been formulated and competent personnel employed so that this great and necessary charity will march even after the one who has done so much for it withdraws from his active connection with it. ... There is general agreement that no one could have taken hold of the business from the start with more energy and skill than Mr. Straus, or more surely made it a going concern. ...He has been one illustration more of the resources in private life which America can draw upon in times of emergency.” Jesse later said, “My experience convinced me that most of our unemployed people want work, and not charity.”
“Jesse Isidor Straus 1872-1936” Straus Historical Society Newsletter Vol. 6 No. 1 (New York: August 2004); pp. 3-7.
“Jesse Isidor Straus 1872-1936: Part Two” Straus Historical Society Newsletter Vol. 6 No. 2 (New York: February 2005); pp. 1-7.
“Jesse I. Straus ‘Businessman for Roosevelt’ and Ambassador in Paris” Straus Historical Society Newsletter Vol. 14 No. 2 (New York: February 2013); pp. 8-9.http://www.straushistoricalsociety.org/uploads/1/1/8/1/11810298/____nwsltr213.pdf
Source: The Straus Historical Society