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Americans voted for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932 on the assumption that the Democrats would dole out more federal assistance than Hoover and the Republicans had. Indeed, immediately after taking the oath of office, FDR set out to provide relief, recovery, and reform in his bundle of programs known as the New Deal.
Roosevelt drew much of his inspiration for the New Deal from the writings of British economist John Maynard Keynes, who believed that a government’s deficit spending could prime the economic pump and jump-start the economy. With the support of a panicked Democratic Congress, Roosevelt created most of the “alphabet agencies” of the First New Deal within his landmark First Hundred Days in office.
On March 6, 1933, two days after becoming president, Roosevelt declared a five-day national bank holiday to close banks temporarily. During Hoover’s presidency, roughly 1,500 banks had closed each year, and FDR hoped that a short break would give the surviving banks time to reopen on more solid footing. Several days later, Congress passed the Emergency Banking Relief Act, which gave Roosevelt the power to regulate banking transactions and foreign exchange.
Several months later, Congress passed the Glass-Steagall Banking Reform Act to protect savings deposits. The act, in turn, created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), which insured an individual’s savings of up to $5,000 (today, it insures deposits of up to $100,000). The act also regulated lending policies and forbade banks from investing in the stock market. After the banking crisis was resolved, Roosevelt aired the first of his “fireside chats” to over 50 million radio listeners, encouraging Americans to redeposit their money in the newly opened banks.
In March 1933, Congress created the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which hired unemployed young men to work on environmental conservation projects throughout the country. For a wage of thirty dollars a month, men worked on flood control and reforestation projects, helped improve national parks, and built many public roads. Approximately 3 million men worked in CCC camps during the program’s nine-year existence.
The “Hundred Days Congress” also created the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), in May 1933, to dole out roughly $500 million to the states. About half of this money was earmarked to bail out bankrupt state and local governments. States matched the other half (three state dollars for every one federal dollar) and distributed it directly to the people. FERA also created the Civil Works Administration (CWA), which helped generate temporary labor for those most in need.
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