Committee on Economic Security (CES)

"Social Security In America"

Part IV



Chapter XVII



THE CENSUS of 1930 listed 63,489 people in the United States as being blind. This represents 52 blind people for each 100,000 in the total population. There are, however, great differences between the States in this ratio, the range being from 30 per 100,000 in New Jersey to 143 per 100,000 in New Mexico.

All people who have studied the problem are agreed that the census understates the number of the blind in this country. The major reason for this understatement appears to be that many of the census takers neglect to ask the question whether any member in the household is blind. Further, there is no agreement as to the degree of loss of vision which constitutes blindness. There are probably at least 100,000 people in this country who are blind within the definitions of the term used in State laws for aid to the blind.

Among the blind the older people predominate. Of all the blind listed in the census, 28,113 were over 65 years of age, representing more than 40 percent of the total number of the blind. Another 17,814 were from 45 to 64 years of age.

The great majority of the blind are needy. Of all the blind in the United States listed in the census of 1920, only 7,177 reported that they were gainfully occupied. Similar information is not found in the census of 1930, but data available from State censuses indicate that since the advent of the depression the percentage of blind persons gainfully employed has decreased. Not more than 15 to 20 percent of all the blind are gainfully occupied, and most of those who are so classified are not entirely self-supporting.


State legislation for the blind has taken four principal forms (1) educational and vocational training, principally of blind children; (2) workshops for the adult blind, maintained with State as sistance; (3) field work in locating the blind, extending to them medical and similar assistance, help in procuring employment, and

{1} Unless otherwise noted, data in this section were taken from "Public Provision for Pensions for the Blind in 1934", Monthly Labor Review, vol. 41, no. 3, September 1935, p. 584-601.


assistance in the marketing of products produced by the blind; and (4) cash grants to the blind.

Educational and vocational training is carried on principally in State schools for the blind and in special day classes established in connection with the public-school system, particularly in urban centers. There are also a considerable number of private institutions of this character.

Workshops for the blind have long been maintained as State institutions, and are also conducted by privates organizations. In these workshops adult blind people carry on some occupations for which they have training, particularly basket weaving, rug making, etc. The number of blind people employed in such special workshops has never exceeded a few thousand.

All but 10 States (Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota) carry on some field work for the blind. In 13 States (Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, West Virginia), however, expenditures for this purpose are less than $5 per year for each blind person in the State. A minimum expenditure of $25 per blind person per year is generally regarded as necessary, but only six States (Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, and New York) expended this amount for this purpose in the latest year for which data are available.{2}

Mr. Irwin, in his testimony before the Senate Finance Committee {2} outlined the requirements of a constructive program for the blind as including medical care for the eyes, if sight can be restored or improved, vocational guidance and training, placement, sheltered employment, home instruction in Braille (the embossed type used by the blind), social service, and care of blind children of preschool age. An amendment to the social security bill, introduced in the Senate, carried an appropriation of $1,500,000 to be distributed to the States for the purpose of assisting them on a matching basis in locating blind persons, in providing diagnoses of their eye conditions, and in training and employment of the adult blind. This amendment was dropped by the conference committee.

As of August 1, 1935, 27 States had laws providing for cash payments to the blind. These are Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana,

{2} From supplementary statement submitted by Robert B. Irwin, executive director, American Foundation for the Blind, Inc., New York, N. Y., in Hearings before the Committee on Finance, U. S. Senate, 74th Cong., 1st sess., on S. 1130 (Economic Security Act) (U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D. C., 1935), pp. 729-730.


Maine, Maryland, Missouri, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. No complete data are at hand regarding the expenditures in these States for aid to the blind. From the latest reports it would appear, however, that in 24


of these States there was a total of 31,909 recipients of grants at the end of 1934, or 68.4 percent of the total blind population of the 24 States in 1930.{3} The total expenditures for blind persons in these States amounted to $6,880,015 in 1934. The average grant paid was $19.96 per month, with a range from $0.83 in Arkansas to $33.12 in California. (See table 65.)

{3} A report from Wisconsin gives 3,742 as the number of blind persons in the State. The 1930 census reported only 1,530 blind persons in Wisconsin, while the State records showed 3,033 in that year. The census therefore underestimated the blind population by nearly one-half. The figure presented in table 65 indicates that 121.2 percent of the State's 1930 blind population was in receipt of pensions in 1934. Utilizing corrected data for the 1930 census this percentage becomes 54. Wisconsin State Board of Control, Blind Persons in Wisconsin, 1907-34 (mimeographed report), 1935, p. 8.


The maximum grants payable range, from $150 per year in New Hampshire to $600 a year in four States (California, Kansas, Nevada, and Utah). In Wyoming also, a maximum of $600 a year is paid to a blind person who is the head of a family. The Minnesota law sets no maximum, except in the case of two blind persons who have contracted marriage after the passage of the act, where the maximum joint grant is limited to $360 a year.

The following tabulation indicates the maximum yearly grants set by State laws:


In eight States the average grants were less than one-half the maximum payable under the State laws; in eight States the average grants were between one-half and two-thirds of the maximum; and in six States the average was more than two-thirds of the maximum allowable. The average allowance in California was about 30 percent higher than the average paid in Illinois, the State with the next highest average. In these two States and in four others (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Missouri), which are highly industrialized, the average amount paid was over $20 a month. Yet Ohio, also an industrial State, ranked among the lowest five States in the size of its average grant to the blind-only $10.04 a month. In Arkansas, where the grants averaged 83 cents a month, blind persons were given a flat grant of $10 a year, although the maximum allowed by law is $300 a year.

The range in individual monthly grants is very wide, varying from $1 to $50 a month. The distribution of recipients of aid to the blind according to the size of their monthly grants is available for two States ( Colorado and New Jersey). In Colorado for the year ending June 30, 1933, 685 persons received monthly grants in accordance with the following percentage distribution: $5, 0.1 percent; $6.25, 5.0 percent; $8, 0.4 percent; $10, 7.2 percent; $12.50, 1.0 percent; $15, 24.5 percent; $20, 18.8 percent; $25 (the maximum payable), 42.9 percent. In New Jersey monthly grants to the blind were paid during 1934 in accordance with the following percentage distribution:


$10-$12, 42.0 percent; $15 or $20, 2.0 percent; $25, 42.0 percent; $30, $35, or $40, 11 percent.

It may be noted from table 65 that less than one-half of the States contribute toward the costs of aid to the blind. In Arkansas, Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, and Pennsylvania, the costs of the system are borne entirely by the State. In Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Utah, and Washington, the State takes no part in the financing, and in New Jersey the State merely bears the cost of administering the system, spending $1,013 for this purpose in 1934. In the remaining five States (California, Colorado, Illinois, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin) the systems are financed jointly by State and county funds.

The existing laws for aid to the blind differ considerably in their provisions (see table 66). The laws of 19 States are mandatory (Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming). In 15 of these States, with a total population of 61,047,000 in 1930, the laws were operative in 754 of the 895 counties in 1934 and covered a population of 54,681,000, or 93 percent of the total number of persons residing in these States in 1930. In eight States ( Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, and Utah) the laws are optional with the counties. Seven of these States have a total of 487 counties, with a 1930 population of 105,575,000. Of these counties, 162, or one-third of the total, had adopted systems of aid to the blind in 1934, covering a population of 3,765,000, or less than 36 percent of the total number of persons in the seven States in 1930.

Most of the laws establish a minimum age, which is commonly either 18 or 21 years, but California and Utah have a 16-year minimum, Colorado has a 40-year minimum, and Louisiana has a 60-year minimum. Most States also prescribe a specified residence period within the State, which is 4 years in 1 State, 5 years in 10 States, 7 years in 3 States, and 9 years in 9 States.

All State laws, except that of Kansas, have a means qualification, which is similar to the property and income qualification in old-age assistance laws. The acts of 11 States prohibit persons from receiving blind allowances if they have financially competent relatives (Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nebraska., New Jersey, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin), whereas no such exclusion is provided in the laws of the other 16 States with systems for aid to the blind. Thirteen States refuse grants to inmates of public charitable institutions (California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Washington); Colorado further excludes inmates



of private charitable institutions; Maine and Wisconsin also exclude inmates of penal institutions; Oklahoma and Pennsylvania deny aid to persons confined in houses of correction; and Missouri excludes inmates of either penal institutions or institutions for the insane. In Maine and in Oklahoma a blind person may receive an allowance after leaving the institution to which he was committed.

The acts of 10 States (California, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin) refuse aid to professional beggars, and in Missouri benefits are denied persons who refuse training or other measures designed to make them self-supporting.

Aid to the blind is discontinued in New York if a recipient of aid marries another blind or partially blind person, and in Minnesota a limit of $30 a month is set as the maximum joint grant to blind persons who contracted marriage after passage of the act.

Definitions of blindness in five State laws limit aid to those whose vision is "so defective as to prevent self-support" (Indiana, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma, and Washington). The laws of two States (Kentucky and Nebraska) define blindness as "destitute of useful vision." The Kansas law requires that the applicant for aid to the blind must have lost the sight of both eyes; the Missouri law defines blindness as "no more than light perception"; the Minnesota law defines blindness as insufficient ocular power for ordinary affairs; and three State laws specify the proportion of loss of normal vision which qualifies an individual for a grant as follows: Maine, less than one-tenth of normal vision; Pennsylvania; less than 3/60 of normal vision; Wyoming, less than 3/60 to 10/200 of normal vision.

The laws of eight States (Arkansas, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine; Minnesota, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming) provide for complete financing of the system for aid to the blind by the State government; California, Colorado, and Illinois laws specify that the State shall bear one-half the cost; and the Wisconsin law provides that the State shall make one-third of the total expenditures. State disbursements for blind allowances in 1934, however, fell below the legally specified proportions in Colorado, in Illinois, and in Wisconsin. In New Hampshire, on the other hand, 68.9 percent of the total cost was borne by the State government in 1934, even though State participation is not provided for in the law. During 1934 aid to the blind in New Hampshire was financed as a part of the relief program, utilizing county, State, and Federal funds.

Only five State laws specify the method to be used in raising State funds for aid to the blind: Arkansas, by a tax on billiard and pool rooms; Illinois, Missouri, and Wisconsin by a property tax; and Wyoming by taxes on liquor. In the other States which provide for State


financial participation the appropriations are presumably made front general funds.

Counties in eight States are authorized to pay blind allowances from general county funds (Idaho, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, and Oklahoma); and in Iowa, counties may use either general funds or poor funds for this purpose. Five States authorize counties to levy special property taxes for revenue for aid to the blind (California, Maryland, Nevada, Utah, and Washington).

Table 66 indicates the administrative authority for aid to the blind in the 27 States which have blind pension laws.{4} As a rule applications for grants are first passed upon by the designated county authorities, such as the commissioners or local courts. In some of the States a State office is charged with ultimate supervision and control, but in 10 States (Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin) the county commissioners, and in Iowa the county board of supervisors, have entire charge of the system. In Idaho the authority for the system is the judge of the county probate court. In Arkansas, California, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming the decision of the local authority is subject to review by a State agency; whereas in Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York the entire authority is placed in a special commission for the blind or in some other State office.


To enable the States to furnish financial assistance, as far as practicable under the conditions in each State, to needy blind individuals, the Social Security Act has authorized $3,000,000 {5} for the fiscal year ending June 30,1936, and has authorized for each fiscal year thereafter the appropriation of a sum sufficient to carry out the purposes of the title of the act. The sums thus made available will be used for making payments to States which have submitted and had approved by the Social Security Board, State plans for aid to the blind.

Table 67 summarizes the provisions of the Social Security Act for Federal grants to the States for aid to the blind. In order to be approved by the Social Security Board, a State plan for aid to

{4}As of Aug. 1, 1935.

{5} The Social Security Act was not approved until Aug. 14, 1935, and the supplemental appropriation bill, fiscal year 1936 [H. R. 9215], failed of passage in the first session of the Seventy-fourth Congress. The Supplemental Appropriation Act, fiscal year 1936, Public, No. 440, 74th Cong., 2d sess. [H. R. 10464], approved Feb.11, 1936, included an appropriation of $2,000,000 for the remainder of the fiscal year ending June 30, 1936.


the blind must be in effect in all parts of the State and be administered by a single State agency or, if it is administered by political subdivisions, its administration must be supervised by a single State agency. It is further required that the State shall participate in financing aid to the needy blind. With respect to methods of administration (other than those relating to selection, tenure of office, and compensation of personnel) and reports to the Federal agency the State plan must comply with whatever regulations the Social Security Board may find necessary. Furthermore, individuals whose claims are denied must be afforded opportunity for a fair hearing before the State agency; they must not be excluded by a residence requirement in excess of 5 years within the 9 years preceding date of application and 1 year's continuous residence immediately preceding application; the State's citizenship requirement must not exclude any citizen of the United States; and applicants must be considered ineligible for aid to the blind if they are in receipt of old-age assistance under a State plan approved by the Federal Social Security Board.

The Secretary of the Treasury, on certification of a State plan by the Social Security Board, will pay to the State (1) a quarterly amount equal to one-half of the amount paid by the State to each needy, blind individual who is not an inmate of a public institution, except that the Federal grant shall not exceed $15 per month per individual in receipt of money payments from the State; and (2) 5 percent of the Federal grant for money payments to individuals to be used solely for State administrative expenses or for aid to the blind or for both purposes.

The amount to be paid each State will be computed each quarter by the Federal Social Security Board after the receipt of reports from the State agency relative to the total number of blind persons in the State, the amounts to be expended by the State, and the amount and source of State funds to be made available.

If, after approval of a State plan for aid to the blind, the Social Security Board finds that the operation of the plan fails to comply with the requirements of the Federal law, the Board, after due notice to allow opportunity for hearing to the State agency, will inform the agency that further payments will be withheld until conditions are rectified.


TABLE 67.-Summary of provisions for Federal grants to States for aid to the blind

[To be made by the Social Security Board under title {1} of the Social Security Act]


Aid to the blind means money payments to needy blind individuals.


A State, in order to receive a Federal grant, must submit a plan and have it approved by the Social Security Board as meeting the following requirements:

1. Effective in all political subdivisions of the State and, if administered by them, mandatory upon them;

2. Provision for financial participation by the State;

3. Either provision for the establishment or designation of a single State agency to administer the plan, or for the establishment or designation of a single State agency to supervise the administration of the plan;

4. Provision for granting to any individual whose claim for aid is denied, an opportunity for a fair hearing before such State agency ;

5. Such methods of administration (other than those relating to selection, tenure of office, and compensation of personnel) as are found by the Social Security Board to be necessary for the efficient operation of the plan ;

6. Submission of such reports in such form and containing such information as the Federal Social Security Board may from time to time require, and compliance with the provisions which the Board may from time to time find necessary to assure the correctness and verification of such reports ;

7. Denial of aid to any individual under the plan with respect to any period when he is receiving old-age assistance under a federally approved plan.

A State plan will not be approved if it imposes:

1. A residence requirement which excludes any resident of the State who has resided therein 5 years during the 9 years immediately preceding the application for aid and who has resided therein continuously for 1 year preceding application;

2. A citizenship requirement which excludes any citizen of the United States.


1. A quarterly amount which shall be used exclusively as aid to the blind, equal to one-half of the total sums expended in the State in such quarter as aid to the needy blind who are not inmates of public institutions, not counting so much of such expenditure to any individual in excess of $30 a month;

2. Five percent of the total Federal quarterly grant to be used solely for costs of administering the State plan or for aid to the blind, or both.


1. Estimates of amounts to be paid States will be based on:

(a) State report of total sum to be expended each quarter for aid to the blind, with statement of amount appropriated or made available by the State and its political subdivisions. (If the amount appropriated is leas than one-half of the total sum of estimated quarterly expenditures, the source or sources from which the difference is expected to be derived must be stated.)

(b) Records of the total number of blind individuals in the State.

(c) Such investigation as the Social Security Board may find necessary.

2. Payments will be made to the State:

(a) After certification by the Social Security Board to the Secretary of the Treasury of the amount due the State reduced or increased by any sum by which its estimate for any prior quarter was greater or leas than the amount which should have been paid;

(b) By the Secretary of the Treasury, through the Division of Disbursement, prior to audit or settlement by the General Accounting Office.


If the Social Security Board finds, after reasonable notice and opportunity for hearing to the State agency administering or supervising the administration of the State plan, that the plan has been so changed as to impose prohibited residence or citizenship requirements, or fails to comply substantially with conditions required for Federal approval, the Board shall notify the State agency that Federal grants will not be made until such conditions are rectified.


Three million dollars for fiscal year ending June 30, 1936; thereafter an annual amount sufficient to carry out the purposes of the title.

{1} 49 Stat. 645 ; 42 U. S. C. (1935 Supp.), Secs. 1201-1206.