Be Community Action
In 1964, The Great Society was envisioned by President Lyndon B. Johnson, as a sweeping plan to improve the lives of all Americans. President Johnson pledged to fulfill his promise of equal opportunity for all by enacting comprehensive changes within the federal Government including in June of that year his declaration of an unconditional war on poverty.
Among the signature efforts of the War on Poverty was the enactment of the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) creating the National Community Action network.
The purpose of Community Action programs as stated in the Economic Opportunity Act is, “to stimulate a better focusing of all available local, State, private and Federal resources upon the goal of enabling low-income families and individuals to attain the skills, knowledge, and motivations and secure the opportunities needed for them to become fully self-sufficient.”
The purpose of the EOA was to give an opportunity for upward mobility to people who had historically been unable to participate in the mainstream of American life. Programs were designed at the local level to meet specific community needs including, but not limited to: housing, education, health, economic development, employment and more.
Community Action’s concept of “maximum feasible participation” the radical notion that low income people are the experts on what programs and services they need was a bold idea for the federal government and continues to be core to the identity and success of community action 50 years later. This commitment was affirmed in 1976 with the amendment to the Economic Opportunity Act mandating the tripartite board structure that is still required today.
In 1981, President Reagan introduced the Community Services Block Grant, which dramatically changed the way these federal funds were distributed. Community Action Agencies would now receive funding through the States, allowing for more flexibility, but also requiring more rigorous structure and reporting.
Beginning in 2001, Community Action highlighted its commitment to accountability and outcomes through the Results Oriented Management and Accountability (ROMA) framework and currently, through the ROMA Next Generation work. In January of 2015, the performance management framework was strengthened with the issuance by the Community Action Partnership of the National Organizational Standards.
Despite the obstacles it has faced over the years, Community Action remains an important source of support for vulnerable individuals and families and maintains its commitment to helping people become stable and helping communities develop economic opportunities for everyone. We are a network proud to be measured not only by the services we provide, but more importantly, by our ability to help change the conditions of people’s lives and our communities.
There are now over 1,000 Community Action Agencies throughout the United States and Puerto Rico reaching millions of Americans.