EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENT SUBDIVISIONS
BOARD OF SOCIAL WELFARE
Current Functions. The Board of Social Welfare is responsible for overseeing the quality of State policies and programs relating to child and adult care to protect the welfare of needy and dependent persons. It does this by visiting and inspecting public and private agencies caring for the aged, the disabled, neglected or delinquent children, and other dependents; reviewing and making recommendations to the governor and legislature regarding quality of supervision exercised by State and local supervisory agencies; studying State policies and programs affecting child and adult care and advocating their improvement; and conducting special human services studies as requested by the governor.
Organizational History. The Board of Commissioners of Public Charities, established in 1867 (Chapter 951) to visit and inspect public almshouses and all charitable and correctional institutions (except prisons) receiving State aid, was the first State supervisory body to coordinate public welfare programs. Before this, public assistance programs were independently operated by county and town authorities and private agencies. The board consisted of eight gubernatorial appointees, one from each judicial district.
The board was renamed the State Board of Charities in 1873 (Chapter 571). The board was enlarged to eleven members, with one additional member from Kings County and two additional members from New York County. Its powers were extended to all (public or private) institutions for the insane and to charitable, correctional (except prisons), and reformatory institutions whether or not they received public funds. The board licensed all insane asylums and visited each institution before issuing a license. This licensing function was transferred to the State commissioner in lunacy in 1874 (Chapter 446). In 1889 (Chapter 283), the board's remaining supervisory duties relating to insane asylums were transferred to the newly established State Commission in Lunacy.
Article VIII of the Constitution of 1894 made the Board of Charities a constitutional body responsible for the supervision, visitation, and inspection of all charitable, correctional, and reformatory institutions except those supervised by the Commission in Lunacy or the Prison Commission. The State Charities Law of 1896 (Chapter 546) limited the board's supervision to institutions receiving State aid but extended its authority to dispensaries. Another member from New York County was added, enlarging the board to twelve members.
The Poor Law of 1896 repealed most previous poor laws and clarified the role of local poor relief officers and the board's duties regarding the poor. The board was to administer laws concerning the poor; investigate conditions of the poor and plan for their relief; advise and regulate almshouse managers on their management, the treatment of inmates, and related issues; visit and inspect almshouses; and approve plans and designs for almshouse construction. The superintendent of State alien and poor and the county superintendents of the poor were to report to the board annually.
The constitutional reorganization of State government in 1925-26 transferred the board's responsibilities for supervision of mental health and correctional facilities to the new departments of Mental Hygiene and Correction. A 1926 law (Chapter 651) established the Department of Charities with the Board of Charities as its executive body. The department assumed the board's functions except for that of visitation and inspection, which the board retained.
In 1929 (Chapter 654), the board was renamed the Board of Social Welfare, and the department was renamed the Department of Social Welfare. The board was reorganized in 1936 (Chapter 873). The twelve-member, eight-year term board was abolished, and the governor appointed a new fifteen-member, five-year term board. The board had power to appoint and remove a commissioner of public welfare, and its role toward public welfare institutions and officials became more regulatory and less administrative. The board was to make rules regarding administration of social welfare programs; determine the principals upon which the State and local governments would provide public relief; advise local welfare institutions and officials; establish general rules for the functioning of institutions; and inspect institutions. The board's inspection function was further clarified by a constitutional amendment in 1938.
The 1940 law (Chapter 619) combining the Public Welfare Law and the State Charities Law continued the board as the executive body of the Department of Social Welfare with authority to establish public-assistance policies and advise local welfare officials and agencies.
In 1971 (Chapter 110) the board was removed from the Department of Social Services (which had been renamed in 1967) and established as a separate agency in the Executive Department. The department's Bureau of Proprietary Organizations, which had the power of approval of certificates of incorporation for public welfare agencies and institutions, was removed from the Department of Social Services and placed under the board. The power to name a commissioner of social services was transferred from the board to the governor. The board's authority to regulate the administration of local public assistance was transferred to the Department of Social Services, and its direct supervision of child- and adult-care institutions was transferred to other State agencies. The board continued to exercise its traditional, constitutional activities relating to the visitation, inspection, and setting of standards for institutions and agencies caring for dependent, neglected, or delinquent children; the aged; indigent; disabled; and disadvantaged.
A 1977 law (Chapter 669) further clarified and expanded the board's responsibility to act as an independent overseer of institutions under its purview; to review, report, and make recommendations concerning implementation of State policies and programs for child and adult care; and to monitor the quality of administration of these programs by responsible State and local agencies. The board's responsibility for regulation of charitable fund raising (begun under a 1956 law) was transferred to the Department of State.
BOARD OF SOCIAL WELFARE
General Agency-level Records
14251 Minutes of the Board and the Committee of the Whole, 1867-1987. 27 cu. ft.
A3257 Charities regulation reference file, 1927-1932. 0.1 cu. ft.
B1302 Litigation files, 1962-1978. 3 cu. ft.