Even as a highly skilled cabinetmaker, Adolfo Baldizzi had a difficult time finding steady work. The odd jobs he picked up as he combed the streets of the Lower East Side with his toolbox were not enough to support the family. For this reason, the Baldizzis were recipients of a program called Home Relief.
A precursor of welfare, Home Relief provided a small amount of funds, as well as goods, to families suffering under Depression-era unemployment. Those on relief received $13 a month for rent. In many cases, though, this proved to be insufficient: the average rent on the Lower East Side in 1930 was $18 a month.
Along with rent money, home relief also provided a clothing allowance. In 1935, the allowance was roughly 27 cents a month, which could buy jellyroll skirts and crocodile pants. Josephine Baldizzi also recalled receiving Home Relief crates packed with clothing and food.
Roughly 210,000 New York City families were dependent upon the program in late 1934. By 1939, little had changed: studies of Jews living on the Lower East Side at that time found two-thirds of them on some form of public relief and one-third on Home Relief. This large-scale reliance on government aid wrankled some Americans. Critics of the program wanted to see people work rather than live off of hand-outs. In turn, critics faulted the government's inability to find satisfactory work for employable relief recipients. Some also criticized recipients, deriding them as "spoiled" louts who abused the system.
However, the enduring effects of the Depression meant that many Home Relief recipients were simply unable to live without this support. As Special Investigator Wayne W. Parrish wrote in a 1934 Home Relief report, "The temper of the client in New York is such that it would take machine guns to cut off relief."