What is Community Action?

Community Action Agencies (CAA) are local public and nonprofit organizations that administer a variety of programs designed to help promote self-sufficiency and economic stability.  CAAs administer a variety of other programs, including Weatherization, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP), Head Start, WIC, and Transportation.


A Brief History of Community Action


In 1962, Michael Harrington's book The Other America challenged the nation's assumption that poverty in America had been widely eradicated since the end of World War II, in large part as a result of the social legislation of the New Deal.  Instead, Harrington claimed that the nation's poor had become "invisible," politically, socially, and physically.  The subsequent 13,000-word review of Harrington's book in The New Yorker magazine, written by David MacDonald, sparked further controversy as it highlighted findings from The Other America and compared the data to other, earlier poverty studies.  Together, MacDonald's review, titled "Our Invisible Poor" and Harrington's book blew open the doors not only on the extent to which poverty was alive and (un)well in America, but also the depth and insidiousness of poverty's impacts on the health, educations, social-connectedness, and upward mobility of millions of people throughout the nation.  As a result, the issue of poverty returned to the spotlight after years in relative darkness, and demanded the attention of citizens and government alike to respond to the inequities and increasing divergence among America's socioeconomic stratums.


In January 1964, amidst a national poverty rate of 19 percent, President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered his first State of the Union address to the American people, in which he declared his Administration's "unconditional war on poverty."  Johnson described a plan to develop a budget and legislative program that would help all Americans secure viable employment, obtain safe and affordable housing in good communities with high-quality schools for their children, and access income supports in old age or in times of unemployment.


President Johnson's promotion of this just and equitable society was offered up in stark contrast to his description of the ways in which too many Americans were currently living "on the outskirts of hope" as a result of poverty or racial descrimination.  "Our task," he said, "is to help replace their despair with opportunity."  For America to achieve this heavy lift, however, the war would have to be fought at home, on the local level, through partnerships across public, private, municipal, community, and personal spheres and the federal government.  The "chief weapons" in this fight, he explained, included better schoosl, health, homes, training, and job opportunities.  Johnson invited America to join in his vision and pursuit of "The Great Society," in which all Americans might forge a pathway out of the hinterlands of poverty and racial discrimination to the realm of the middle class.  He set a broad and sturdy table--one to which all who were hungry for opportunity may pull up a chair; where all whose dreams were malnourished may be sated with hope; and where all who were thirsty for change could be quelled by the well of enterprise, reciprocity, and, above all, action.


On August 20, 1964, President Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (Public Law 88-452), an omnibus bill which created a slate of programs designed to "mobilize the human and financial resources of the Nation to combat poverty in the United States."  The Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) of 1964 was passed, which created the Federal Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) within the Executive Office of the President. The EOA established several new education, employment and training, and work-experience programs such as the Job Corps and the Neighborhood Youth Corps. The EOA also included the community action concept.  The Office of Economic Opportunity led the effort to coordinate programs of all federal agencies.  At the local level, new entities called Community Action Agencies (or Programs—CAP) were created to initiate and operate the local War on Poverty.


Community Action Agencies were located in economically and socially depressed neighborhoods, staffed with outreach workers whose job it was to seek out residents who were in need of help—to ORGANIZE and MOBILIZE America’s War on Poverty from the ground, up.  A provision of the EOA of 1964 called for those who were living in poverty to have maximum feasible participation in the identification of social and economic problems, and the subsequent development of solutions to address poverty.  Thus, for the first time ever, it was the poor who were charged with informing the work of these community-based organizations.


By 1969, many successful self-help programs had been initiated by the OEO and Community Action Agencies.  These programs included Head Start, Family Planning, Community Health Centers, Legal Services, VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America—also known as the “Domestic Peace Corps”—and Economic Development, among many others.  However, during the Nixon Administration, both the President and Congress felt that too many categorical grant programs and too many programs with social change as a key element.  Congress began to shift its interest to income transfer programs, such as Social Security, Food Stamps (a.k.a. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and other cash transfers to individuals.


In 1974, the Office of Economic Opportunity dismantled, and the “new” Community Services Administration (CSA) was created, maintaining the same federal employees and administering the same programs to the same Community Action Agencies as the former OEO.


In the late 1970s, under prodding from Congress, the Carter Administration initiated a large-scale effort to strengthen the planning and management systems of both CSA and the CAAs.  A new planning and management system, called the Grantee Program Management System, was designed to help CAAs “get back to their mission.” Community Action Agencies and CSA were once again called upon to exert local leadership by devising local projects and to specify the results to be accomplished.  After the CSA approved such projects, their relative success could be quantifiably measured by comparing the projects actual outcomes with the proposed results.


In 1981, the Reagan Administration pushed to reduce the federal government’s level of financial support for domestic social service programs.  The approach was to consolidate programs into large, general purpose block grants and delegate responsibility for administering these grants to the States.  One of the eight new block grants created was the Community Services Block Grant—or, CSBG. It provided specifically that federal funding be continued and that it retain the same general set of purposes contained in the Economic Opportunity Act. CSBG ensures the continued funding of Community Action Agencies.  In most states, CSBG is now overseen by the State Administering Agency for the CSBG.  CSBG is not a program; it is a funding stream, the purpose of which is to address poverty via local solutions.


Many years later, in 1994, a more refined system was established to measure CSBG program outcomes.  This new system was called ROMA, or Results Oriented Management and Accountability.




History of YCCAC

York County Community Action Corporation was incorporated in 1965 in response to the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. Since then, the agency has been delivering a range of social service, health, and educational programs to York County individuals and families living in poverty. Every year, the organization's staff of 200 interact with approximately 20,000-plus low-income York County residents. Our major departments include Economic Opportunity, which includes Community Outreach, York County CA$H, Access to Justice, as well as Homeownership and Consumer Advocacy services, as well as Children's Services (Head Start and Early Head Start), Energy Services (LIHEAP, energy programs, and Weatherization), Transportation, Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and our federally-qualified community health center, Nasson Health Care.


The mission of York County Community Action is to alleviate the symptoms of poverty, attack its underlying causes, and to promote the dignity and self-sufficiency of the people of York County, Maine.


We're here when you need us.


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