The precursors of the Texas Department of Human Services began during the Great Depression of the 1930s: the Child Welfare Division of the Board of Control, which was established in 1931 but not funded until 1935; the Texas Relief Commission, which was in operation from 1933 to 1934; and the Old Age Assistance Commission, which was established in 1936. In 1939 the legislature established the Department of Public Welfare, incorporating the earlier agencies under a more centralized control. The new department was supervised by the state board of public welfare, which was composed of three members appointed by the governor for six-year terms. The board appointed the executive director to serve as chief administrative officer of the department. The major duties of the department were to administer the state laws regarding assistance to the needy aged, dependent children, and blind and to carry out the state's child welfare program. Between 1945 and 1961 voters raised the ceiling on relief funding from $35 million to $52 million for aid to the blind, dependent children, and the aged; they raised the ceiling on state funds for the disabled from $1.5 million to $2 million. In 1963 the combined ceiling for these expenditures was $60 million.
In 1965 the Department of Public Welfare was authorized to cooperate with the federal government in administering the anti-poverty program, which had been established the previous year. State funding for all assistance programs was raised from $60 million to $80 million in 1969. The department continued in the 1970s to administer four public assistance programs for needy Texans: old age assistance, aid to the blind, aid to the permanently and totally disabled, and aid to families with dependent children. The federal government provided approximately 75 percent of the assistance funds, and the state, by appropriation from the legislature, provided the remainder. The department also administered the Texas Medical Assistance Program (Medicaid), which helped pay the costs of medical care for many people who were eligible for public assistance. It served as the state agency responsible for administration of two food programs for the benefit of needy persons-the commodity distribution program and the food stamp program. The department's division of social services provided many services to children, adults, and families who received financial assistance through the department. The department also had as a fundamental responsibility the protection of all children from abuse, neglect, or exploitation. It also provided adoptive services and was responsible for licensing child-care and child-placing facilities.
In 1977 the legislature changed the name of the department to the Texas Department of Human Resources. The department was restructured in 1980, with the programs categorized to reflect two major client groups: families and children, and aged and disabled persons. Voters approved a flexible spending system for welfare funding in 1981, which provided that state expenditures in this area should not exceed 1 percent of the total budget. In 1985 the Department of Human Resources was renamed the Texas Department of Human Services. In 1987 the legislature added a penalty provision to the Human Resources Code for failure to report abuse, neglect, or exploitation of elderly or disabled people. In 1989 the board of Human Services was expanded from three to six members.
The legislature authorized a new Health and Human Services Commission in 1992 to oversee the state's eleven human services agencies. Besides the Texas Department of Human Services, these agencies included the Texas Department of Health, the Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation, the Texas Rehabilitation Commission, the Texas Commission for the Blind, the Texas Commission for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired, the Texas Youth Commission, the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, the Texas Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, the Texas Department on Aging, and the Interagency Council on Early Childhood Intervention Services. One of the commission's functions was to develop a plan for the consolidation of human services programs and functions, as well as for a permanent governing structure. As part of this plan, the Child Protective Services, Adult Protective Services, and Childcare Licensing programs were transferred to the new Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services. Purchased health, indigent health, and preventive health services programs were to be transferred to the Texas Department of Health in September 1993.