American Public Welfare Association
by John E. Hansan, Ph.D.
February 20, 2012
Introduction: At the 1929 annual meeting of the National Conference of Social Work in San Francisco a delegation of public agency representatives voted to organize a national membership organization open to all levels of government. In 1930, approximately forty persons from twenty different states met in Boston to found the new organization. Initially, the organization was named the American Association of Public Welfare Officials and its mission was to help and improve the activities of public welfare organizations throughout the nation. The name was changed in May 1932 to the American Public Welfare Association (APWA); and in 1998 it was changed again to: American Public Human Services Association.” The description below is from an APWA document written in 1978.
(Note: For more information about the early history of APWA go to: American Association of Public Welfare Officials. For information about the American Public Human Services Association contact: http://www.aphsa.org/content/APHSA/en/ContactUs.html
HISTORY OF APWA
The American Public Welfare Association was founded in 1930, as a voluntary membership organization, national in scope and composed of individuals and agencies interested in or working for public welfare programs. From its inception, the association has been an important factor in the development of social service programs in the United States.
The initial project of the association was to assist the President’s Emergency Committee for Employment in gathering information on the need for public relief and to develop plans for more effective organization of public welfare services.
A grant for this Depression era project was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation which enabled the association to employ its first full-time staff and to open an office in Washington, D.C., on September 16, 1931.
During the following two years, the association (then called the American Association of Public Welfare Officials) expanded its activities in response to increasing requests for assistance from federal committees, voluntary agencies, and state officials. Membership grew from the initial 151 persons to nearly 1,000 during this time. In 1932, the association moved its offices to Chicago, Illinois, and changed the name to the American Public Welfare Association.
During the depression years it became clear that voluntary state and local agencies were too fragmented to cope with overwhelming social welfare problems.
The American Public Welfare Association assumed the role of liaison between federal agencies and the states during this time. APWA worked long and hard for passage of the Social Security legislation and aided in its implementation. The association continued to provide leadership in improving public welfare administration, and the clarification of policies and procedures. In 1939 two component groups were formed — The National Council of State Public Welfare Administrators and the National Council of Local Public Welfare Administrators.
APWA continued to have an active role in influencing national policy. In the 1940’s, the association aided the nation’s people by helping to assure continuity and coordination of welfare services during the war. Activities included assistance to the Administration of Selective Service, aid to military inductees and their dependents, planning for new and emergency problems in defense programs, aid to refugee children, and their families, and efforts to move employable men and women from relief roles into jobs.
APWA has been continually involved in the amendments to the Social Security Act. When amendments were proposed in 1946, APWA served as a medium for clearance of information, discussion of ideas and clarification of goals. In 1957, APWA aided in implementation of the major amendments to the Social Security Act which were made in 1956.
During the war on poverty, when new agencies and services sprouted throughout the country, the association provided consultative services to 88 organizations, agencies and community groups. APWA further assisted state and local public welfare administrations when new avenues needed to be opened for community and constituent involvement in public assistance and social service programs.
Also in the 1960’s a self study of the organization was started by a committee of the board members and other members which laid the groundwork for implementation of major structural changes in the association. The result of the study was reorganization of the association, giving membership a greater voice in the development of policy and program. Services improved in some areas after the reorganization, but the association was left without a clear sense of direction. Throughout the country, public welfare programs faced pressures caused by unprecedented growth in caseloads. It was clear that help at the national level was needed to ameliorate these problems.
A study conducted by the Board of Directors in 1970 and 1971 led to the inevitable conclusion that APWA should move its headquarters to Washington, D.C. as soon as possible and focus attention primarily on national policy issues and federal/state relationships. In January, 1974, offices were relocated to Washington, D.C. During this period activity accelerated in the area of national policy development. APWA continued to assume the role of liaison between states, congress, U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), and other national organizations.
APWA aided in implementation of the new National Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program, which was to be the nation’s first effort to standardize public welfare programs and guarantee a minimum income to needy segments of the population. Acting as a liaison with state agencies under a contract with the Social Security Administration, APWA was able to influence the direction of this program.
APWA has continued to represent membership on every major public welfare issue and has been actively involved in effecting legislation on regulations in the areas of social services, food stamps, income maintenance, and health.
Today, members include all state and territorial public welfare agencies, and 1,700 local and federal agencies, and several thousand individuals who work in or have an interest in public welfare.
The American Public Welfare Association has a dual purpose:
- To exert a positive influence on the shaping of national social policy; and
- To promote the professional development of persons working in public welfare.
Underlying APWA’s efforts to meet these two objectives is the philosophy that the most constructive social policies are those developed through a blend of national and local concerns, social and economic goals, and professional and administrative viewpoints. The association brings together different disciplines and interests when recommending positions on social welfare issues. Furthermore, the association values policies which can be translated into effective and manageable programs and services at the state and local levels.
The Association provides leadership in identifying the forces which adversely affect the welfare of individuals and families and fosters the public’s participation with public welfare agencies towards the solution of such problems. By carrying out independent policy analysis and policy research on a national level, APWA staff is able to inform and interpret to the public results of this work. The association provides consultation whenever possible to public welfare agencies in developing and improving internal operations by formulating guides, principles and sound standards. APWA initiates and responds to the need for cooperative relationships and efforts in matters of mutual concern between public welfare agencies and other public services and voluntary associations.