Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation (FSCC) (1933)

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(called Federal Surplus Relief Corporation, 1933-1935)

The Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation “was organized on October 4, 1933, under the laws of the state of Delaware, as the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation, a nonprofit corporation without stock…On November 18, 1935, the charter of the Corporation was amended to change the name to…‘Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation’” [1]. In this summary we refer to the organization, from its beginning to end, as the FSCC. The FSCC’s initial board of directors consisted of Harold Ickes, Harry Hopkins (who also served as the corporation’s president), Henry Wallace, and William Myers [2]. The FSCC was not created by “congressional action, executive order, or administrative decree,” but rather by President Roosevelt and his aides based on authority granted under the Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Federal Emergency Relief Act, and other legislation.

The FSCC purchased surplus commodities, especially farm goods, and distributed them to low-income Americans. It had two main goals: Raising the price of farm goods by creating scarcity and assisting those in need. The Agricultural Adjustment Act was the principal driving force behind the creation the FSCC. Its mandate to destroy surplus crops and livestock generated protests against waste and cruelty, so several New Dealers, including Eleanor Roosevelt, promoted the idea of distributing excess foodstuffs to the poor. Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace would later write: “To many of us, the only thing that made the hog slaughter acceptable was the realization that the meat and lard salvaged would go to the unemployed” [3].

During most of its existence, the FSCC relied on a procurement and distribution method of operation. It acquired surplus goods by direct purchase, by donation from the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, and by donation from state emergency relief offices. It then directed the transport of acquired goods, often after intermediate processing (e.g., “raw cotton into textiles”), to destinations where the goods could be distributed to those in need [4].

Another method of operation, added on May 16, 1939, was the “Food Stamp Plan.” This plan allowed people to buy orange-colored stamps at face value and, if they did so, receive free blue-colored stamps that could be used to purchase additional food that the Secretary of Agriculture had listed as surplus. The orange stamps ensured that normal amounts of money were being spent on food and the blue stamps served to increase the volume of food that could be purchased by low-income Americans [5]. The food stamp plan was terminated in 1943, but our modern Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—still popularly called “food stamps”—can be traced back to the New Deal’s Food Stamp Plan [6].

The volume of commodities distributed to the needy by the FSCC was large. For example, during its first two years, when struggling Americans were at their most desperate, the FSCC distributed 9 million fresh apples, 375 million cans of beef, 75 million units of butter, 165 million sides of smoked pork, 17 million pounds of grass seed, 1 million blankets, and much more [7]. Over time, the FSCC would also assist with school lunch programs and the exportation of wheat and flour to “maintain the United States’ fair share of world trade…” – two other programs that would continue in different forms in the postwar era [8].

The FSCC lasted until 1940, when its duties and responsibilities were transferred to the newly-created Surplus Marketing Administration [9].

Sources: (1) Report of the FSCC, 1935, p. 1. (2) Report of the FSCC, 1933, introductory pages. (3) Ray Harvey, Want in the Midst of Plenty, Washington, DC: American Council on Public Affairs, 1941, pp. 3-5. (4) See note 1, at pp. 2-4. (5) Report of the FSCC, 1939, pp. 2-4. (6) “The History of SNAP,” SNAP to Health, https://www.snaptohealth.org/snap/the-history-of-snap/, accessed July 17, 2015. (7) See note 1, at p. 10. (8) Report of the FSCC, 1940, p. 2, and Report of the FSCC, 1939, p. 7. (9) “Records of the Surplus Marketing Administration,” National Archives and Records Administration, https://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/124.html, accessed July 17, 2015. (In this source list, “Report of the FSCC…” refers to various annual reports of the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation and Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation, available to view at https://www.hathitrust.org/.)

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And the Winners are . . .

FDR delivering one of his fireside chats.

The 2023 New Deal Book Award

The winning titles and authors have been announced. The 2023 Award, with a prize of $1,000, will be presented at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library June 22, 2024.