The Tennessee Emergency Relief Administration (TERA) was an important early New Deal agency in Tennessee. Shortly after the inauguration of President Franklin Roosevelt, Congress passed the Federal Emergency Relief Act on May 12, 1933, and its implementation began on May 22, with Harry Hopkins assuming the position as director of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA). The FERA program had three guiding principles: adequate relief should be given; work relief rather than dole relief should be given; and the work relief program should be diversified to allow opportunities for participants to perform activities related to their ordinary occupations. FERA had four divisions: 1) Research, Statistics, and Finance; 2) Works; 3) Rural Rehabilitation; and 4) Relations with States.
FERA distributed grants-in-aid to states according to three conditions: the state legislature had to create a state agency, which, in turn, would submit a plan that met federal approval, and the state had to provide matching funds. First, the Tennessee agency was the Tennessee State Relief Administration, and then it took the name of TERA, the Tennessee Emergency Relief Administration. TERA projects were spread across the state. At Gentry, in the Cumberland Plateau, it built a brick school. In Memphis, it distributed food, clothing, and coal to the needy; men also were hired to clean streets and dig ditches. In October 1933 Kingsport requested a $12,500 grant and loan from TERA for local relief projects.
Before TERA and other state agencies could be effectively organized and placed in operation, it became apparent to both President Roosevelt and Hopkins that the winter of 1933-34 would be economically severe if something were not done quickly. On November 9, 1933, the Civil Works Administration (CWA) was created by executive order. It operated under Title II of the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) and spent $900 million before it was discontinued in the spring of 1934. The CWA was strictly a federal agency designed to employ persons who had been receiving direct relief payments. CWA projects in Tennessee included early work on Cumberland Homesteads near Crossville.
TERA had been a partial success, “but by 1935 the economic situation had improved so little that another approach appeared necessary.” (1) This became the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The WPA took over the work relief program of TERA and similar agencies in other states. The Rural Rehabilitation Division of TERA was assumed by the University of Tennessee Extension Division as of July 1, 1935. The initial efforts of the WPA were to borrow workers from TERA and gradually absorb them.
By late July WPA had requested over five million dollars to continue rewritten TERA projects. Some delay in shifting workers from TERA to WPA occurred when it required the workers to have physical exams. TERA asked for a $10,000 grant to pay for such exams. By mid-August, 8,000 physically fit workers began working on fifty-seven WPA projects in Tennessee.
John D. Minton, The New Deal in Tennessee, 1933-1939 (1979); Carroll Van West, The New Deal Landscape of Tennessee (2001)