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American Public Welfare Association

American Public Welfare Association

by John E. Hansan, Ph.D.

February 20, 2012


The American Public Human Services Association, formerly known as the American Public Welfare Association.
The American Public Human Services Association, formerly known as the American Public Welfare Association.
Photo: Courtesy of the American Public Human Services Association

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:


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.

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