As more people became unable to support themselves or rely on their families in their old age, there were movements in various states to provide public cash assistance to the poor elderly in order to keep them out of the poorhouses. Arizona enacted a law in 1914 which abolished almshouses and provided pensions for aged persons and people with disabilities. That law was declared unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court in 1916, but they made some changes and passed a law that did conform with the constitution.
Most of the state old-age assistance laws were somewhat limited. For the most part, the state would help to finance the cost of assistance only for people who had no other source of income, and only if counties could pass old-age pension laws and pay for part of the cost themselves. This meant that welfare varied, not just from state to state, but from county to county. (Old Age Security Staff Report, 1934)
Another limitation of these plans was that they applied a "means test" against both the elderly person and any of his or her relatives before awarding benefits, to ensure that none of them was financially able to provide any help:
"I should like to point out one very significant factor which differentiates the old age pensions in the United States from the systems prevailing in other countries, and that is the introduction of the 'means test' not only for the aged themselves but for their so-called responsible relatives... American pension legislation evidently assumes without argument that...support by children, is at least as desirable as, or perhaps preferable to, public support through old age pensions. It makes the violent assumption that wherever such support is found it represents a socially satisfactory answer to the problem of old age. It says little concerning the social cost that the imposition of this burden of support of the aged upon their children represents; it gives no consideration to the lowering of the standard of living of millions of families and their children. It assumes that the average wages today are sufficient not only for the maintenance of the worker and his wife and children, but even of ancestors." (National Advisory Council, 1934)