What is Community Action?
In 1964, The Great Society, as envisioned by President Lyndon Johnson, was a sweeping plan to improve the lives of all Americans, regardless of their circumstances. Inspired by President Kennedy and his New Frontier, Johnson pledged to fulfill his promise of equal opportunity for all by enacting several comprehensive changes within the federal government. In August of that same year, the Economic Opportunity Act was signed into law by President Johnson creating the nationwide Community Action Network.
The War on Poverty
In 1963, shortly before he was assassinated, President Kennedy had asked his economic advisors to draw up some proposals to address the problem of American poverty. Johnson took up this charge after he succeeded Kennedy as President. In Johnson’s first State of the Union address in 1964, he called for an unconditional war to defeat poverty. He developed the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. The act included a variety of initiatives:
*CAPS turned out to be the most controversial part of the package, as it proposed the “maximum feasible participation” by poor people themselves to determine what would help them the most. CAPS were a radical departure from how government had run most social reform programs in the past.
The Start of Community Action
Community Action was a bold idea, especially for the federal government. It handed over control to the local level, so that programs were geared specifically for target population needs. This concept, “maximum feasible participation”, represented a new paradigm in the government and many sectors were wary of its innovative ideas. President Johnson selected a member of President Kennedy’s inner circle to head up the newly formed “Office of Economic Opportunity” –Sargent Shriver.
History of Community Action
Unique Characteristics of Community Action Agencies
CAAs are required to have a tripartite board consisting of equal parts of local private sector, public sector, and low-income community representatives. This structure brings together community leaders from each of these groups to collaborate on developing responses to local needs. This allows for Maximum Feasible Participation in both the creation and administration of Community Action programs.
The CAA network is one of the largest users of volunteer services in the country.
LEVERAGE FOR OTHER RESOURCES
In Iowa, every Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) dollar spent leverages nearly $32 of federal, state, local, and private contributions combined.
CSBG funds give CAAs the flexibility to design programs that address needs specific to individuals and the local community and to identify specialized resources that fit these needs.
LOW ADMINISTRATIVE COSTS
CAAs have very low administrative overhead costs (on average, between 7 and 12 percent). Resources are invested directly in the community and families.
COMPREHENSIVE AND RESPONSIVE
CAAs respond quickly when a family or individual is in crisis to avoid costly long-term problems. The highest priority is placed on helping people achieve permanent self-sufficiency. In addition to emergency assistance, a major portion of CSBG expenditures is for coordination among various programs.
COMMUNITY AND FAMILY PROGRAMS
CAAs provide services that address the full range of family needs – from Head Start and other education and child development programs, to youth and adult employment and training, to services for seniors and the frail elderly. Services are generally coordinated through a case manager or family development specialist. Other CAA programs are designed to strengthen the local economy and develop the community’s infrastructure under the guidance of community leaders.
REACHING MILLIONS OF AMERICANS
CAAs provide services to more than a quarter of all Americans living in poverty and to several million more families with incomes only slightly higher than the poverty threshold every year.