Public or private aid to people in economic need because of natural disasters, wars, economic upheaval, chronic unemployment, or other conditions that prevent self-sufficiency. A distinction may be drawn between relief targeting upheavals and natural disasters and relief of chronic social conditions, now usually referred to as welfare. In 17th-century China the government maintained ever-normal granaries for use in the event of famine. Through the 19th century, disaster relief in Europe consisted largely of emergency grants of food, clothing, and medical care through hastily organized local committees. In the 20th century, disaster relief became one of the chief activities of the International Red Cross and other international agencies. Assistance to the needy from public funds has traditionally been strictly limited; in England, the Poor Law Reform Act of 1834 required people able to work to enter a workhouse in order to receive public assistance. The U.S. government responded to the Great Depression with the New Deal, which emphasized work relief programs such as the Works Progress Administration. In the later 20th century, the work requirement was abandoned in most countries, and the needy received direct cash payments, though in the U.S. the movement for welfare reform resulted in the passage in 1996 of “workfare” laws cutting off relief for most able-bodied welfare recipients who failed to find a job or perform community service.
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Administrative body (1943–47) for an extensive social-welfare program for war-ravaged nations. It distributed relief supplies and services, including shelter, food, and medicine, and helped with agricultural and economic rehabilitation. Its functions were later taken over by the International Refugee Organization, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF.
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