The “Community Action Program” (“CAP”) was established over thirty-five years ago by Congress as a centerpiece of the War on Poverty. The goal of the program, which is now part of the Community Services Block Grant, is to reduce poverty, revitalize low-income communities, and empower low-income individuals and families to become fully self-sufficient. The program is carried out by a national network of over 1300 designated Community Action Agencies (“CAAs”), which provide a diverse array of services to and advocacy on behalf of low-income individuals and families.

A Short History of Community Action

In 1964 President L.B. Johnson officially declared a “War on Poverty” and quickly appointed Sargent Shriver to lead a Poverty Task Force that would ultimately shape the Community Action movement. Mr. Shriver presented a “poverty proposal” to Congress that lead to the passage of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964.  President Johnson didn’t stop there; he also created the Office of Economic Opportunity; specifically designed to create and implement programs that would provide services to engage the “poor” and help move low-income Americans toward self sufficiency. Community Action programs were formed across the country and programs such as Head Start and Job Corps were implemented. By 1966 there were more than 1000 Community Action Agencies spread out across the country.

More than 40 years later, Community Action has continued to pursue its original mission; fighting the “War on Poverty” by providing “a helping hand not a hand out.” Over 90 percent of US Counties have a Community Action Agency that is focused on serving its low-income residents. Community Action Agencies rely on the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) to help fund the programs they provide. Since the implementation of the CSBG, budget allocations have been on a roller coaster. Currently the CSBG is allocated at 630 million dollars, which is shared by community action agencies in 50 states and the trust territories. CSBG funds are the backbone of Community Action, but because of the limited amount funds, dispersed to hundreds of agencies across the country, CAAs are forced to find alternative sources to provide services to their communities.

The Promise of Community Action

Community Action changes people’s lives, embodies the spirit of hope, improves communities, and makes America a better place to live. We care about the entire community, and we are dedicated to helping people help themselves and each other.

Because each CAA is governed locally, each provides a different mix of programs and services. The following list represents services delivered by Community Action Agencies:

Asset Development: Individual Development Accounts (IDA), budget counseling
Community Coordination: citizen engagement, community assessment, information and referrals
Economic Development: business planning and loans, entrepreneurship, water and sewer
Education: Head Start, youth mentoring, literacy, adult basic education
Emergency Services: food pantries, energy assistance homeless shelters, domestic violence
Family Development: day care, case management, counseling, support
Food & Nutrition: Meals on Wheels, SNAP, congregate feeding, food banks
Health Care: health clinics, WIC, prescription assistance
Housing: self-help housing, home ownership, rental assistance, weatherization
Training & Employment Services: job readiness, job training, and job creation
Transportation Assistance: rural transportation systems, on-demand transportation