Social Programs and Government Responsibility

9, 10, 11, 12

In times of economic difficulties, people often look to the Federal Government to solve their problems. Learners will compare two presidents and view how they saw the role of the Federal Government in times of difficulty. They will also see that both presidents felt there was a need for individual and community philanthropy.

PrintOne Fifty-Five Minute Class Period

The learner will:

  • describe the role of the Federal Government in times of difficulty as seen through the actions of two different presidents.
  • define “philanthropy” and identify individual and community acts of philanthropy which are necessary in hard times.
  • Franklin Roosevelt’s Address before the Conference on Mobilization for Human Needs (Handout One)
  • Ronald Reagan on Government and Solving National Problems (Handout Two)
Home Connection 

For homework, ask the learners to review the viewpoints of each President and, in an imaginative mode, write and essay speculating about what might have happened if each President had not taken the action he did, hypothesizing about the importance of individual and community philanthropy in hard times.


Primary Resources: Mobilization for Human Needs, 1933
This source provides information on President Roosevelt’s speeches.

The Public Papers of President Ronald Reagan This source provides speeches of President Ronald Reagan.


  1. Anticipatory Set:Ask students to list, in their opinion, the three greatest Presidents of the United States. They should put a reason beside each name. Report out and determine the class’ idea of the three greatest presidents.

  2. Explain that many persons, when confronted with the same question, named Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Democrat, 1933-1945) to that list. Explain that the nation was caught in the grip of the Great Depression when he became President and that the previous President had done little to use the power of the Federal Government to alleviate citizens’ suffering. Until the Great Depression of the 1930’s there were practically no federal social programs. Families, churches and private charities took on the responsibility of caring for those who were poor, old or homeless. By the 1930’s many states took some responsibility for the needy, orphans, the blind and the homeless. The Great Depression changed this situation when people who had worked hard all their lives were suddenly faced with economic ruin. Roosevelt launched many new programs to help the poor, including Social Security which set up a retirement plan and the program for unemployment compensation.

  3. In the 1960’s, President Kennedy proposed and President Johnson established a “war on poverty” which started or expanded many federal social programs. Some programs gave direct aid while others aimed at preventing poverty. Federal aid went to education, public-housing programs, job training, mass transit and community development.

  4. In the 1980’s a major shift occurred when Ronald Reagan cut back funds for most public assistance programs. His policy aimed to provide a “safety net” that would give benefits only to the poorest of the poor. Eligibility rules were tightened, eliminating many of the working poor from welfare programs and reducing benefits for others.

  5. Distribute Franklin Roosevelt’s Address before the Conference on Mobilization for Human Needs (Handout One). Read the speech together as a whole group and discuss the following questions:

  6. When problems arose in a community, who did President Roosevelt believe had the first responsibility to try to solve the problem or come to the community’s aid? The President believed it was the responsibility of the local community through their churches, the community chest (United Way), and social and charitable organizations in the community.

  7. When citizens and their organizations cannot solve the problem, who is next in line to come to their aid? The local government should step to the aid of the citizens and do their utmost. After that the state must step in and do its utmost.

  8. When is it necessary for the Federal Government to step in? If the State has done everything it reasonably should do, then the Federal Government must step in, because, while it isn’t written in the Constitution, it is the inherent duty of the Federal Government to keep its citizens from starvation.

  9. Why did President Roosevelt feel that everyone, without exception, had to help solve the problem? (He believed that if everyone cooperated and contributed to “get the train rolling,” this would prompt greater and greater improvement. He believed the problem was so large that no one could be exempt from contributing to the solution.)

  10. Distribute Ronald Reagan on Government and Solving National Problems (Handout Two). Read the speech together as a whole group and discuss the following questions:

  11. What did President Reagan believe was the source of problems confronting the nation? He felt that people’s belief that the Federal Government has the answer to all problems caused problems. He was also concerned that people believed that the proper method for dealing with social problems was to transfer power from the private to the public sector, and within the public sector from state and local governments to Washington .

  12. What did President Reagan believe was causing the country’s economic problems? He blamed high taxes, deficit spending, and the belief that society is too complex to be managed by its citizens, but needs an elite group to run the government.

  13. Where did President Reagan believe true power resided in government? It was his intention to curb the size and influence of the Federal Government and distinguish between the powers granted to the Federal Government and those reserved to the states or to the people.

  14. To President Reagan, who were the heroes and patriots in the nation? They were working men and women, entrepreneurs who created new jobs, new wealth and opportunity, individuals and families whose taxes supported the government and whose voluntary gifts supported church, charity, culture, art and education.


The homework essay and teacher observation during the analysis of Presidential speeches and the community philanthropy may be used as assessments of learning.

Cross Curriculum 

None for this lesson.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define philanthropy to include giving and sharing; volunteering; and private individual action intended for the common good. Explain how a volunteer individual/group can act for the common good.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Identify and discuss examples of philanthropy and charity in modern culture.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.3 Identify an example of failure in each sector, and how the other sectors modified their roles in response.