In 1964 a new set of domestic programs were proposed by President Lyndon Baines Johnson in an effort to rectify the spreading plague of poverty throughout the United States. These new programs had two primary goals, the elimination of poverty and eradication of racial injustice.

Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 (EOA)

In President Johnson’s effort to strengthen his anti-poverty agenda he created a task force designed to help shape the developing policies. This new task force was headed by Sergeant Shriver, brother-in-law of the late President Kennedy, and current director of the widely respected Peace Corps. The task force established the basis for the Economic Opportunity Act that President Johnson would sign into law that summer.

In August of 1964, Congress enacted Public Law 88-452, an omnibus bill, entitled the "Economic Opportunity Act of 1964." This act laid the groundwork for the creation of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the Job Corps, Volunteer Services in America (VISTA), Upward Bound, Head Start, Legal Services, the Neighborhood Youth Corps, and the Community Action Program (CAP) among others. The Community Action Program would serve the role of helping members of the community access the services they need on the community level, with the ultimate goal of guiding its members to independence and sustainability.

The passage of this legislation marked the official beginning of the War on Poverty in the United States, with its focus on improving economic opportunity.

"It is the policy of the United States to eliminate the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty in this nation by opening, to everyone, the opportunity for education and training, the opportunity to work, and the opportunity to live in decency and dignity." – EOA

State Offices of Oversight

In 1965 the Act was amended to incorporate the creation of offices of economic opportunity at the state level, encouraging the involvement of state governments in the effort to fight poverty.

In Connecticut, the Department of Social Services (DSS) and the Office of Strategic Planning oversee the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) which funds our anti-poverty programs and agencies. The DSS Strategic Planning office acts as the state-level partner here in Connecticut, along with CAFCA’s statewide network of Community Action Agencies, with their mission to assist low-income Connecticut residents in achieving self-sufficiency. It plays a strategic role in promoting collaboration among state agencies that address the needs of the poor.

Most of Connecticut’s Community Action Agencies were formed in the mid to late sixties. The Connecticut Association for Community Action was formed in 1974.

Additional Legislation

Other important measures were passed that tied in closely with Johnson’s Great Society and the War on Poverty, including an $11 billion dollar tax cut (Revenue Act of 1964), the Civil Rights Act (1964), the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965), the Social Security Amendments that created both Medicare and Medicaid (1965), the Model Cities Act (1965), the creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD (1965), the Voting Rights Act (1965), and the Fair Housing Act (1968).

Change Through Future Administrations

While Nixon was not a whole-hearted supporter of all aspects of the War on Poverty, public pressure led the administration to maintain most of the existing programs. The Nixon Administration also broadened range of programs and benefits through the liberalization of the Food Stamp program, the indexing of Social Security to inflation, and the passage of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program for disabled Americans.

In addition to enhancing the programmatic elements in the War on Poverty the Nixon Administration also replaced OEO with Community Services Administration. This change was part of a larger effort to shift control of social welfare programs to be facilitated through federal bureaucracies.

Fully realizing Nixon’s vision for a “New Federalism” President Ronald Reagan replaced the Community Services Administration with the Community Services Block Grant. The Reagan Administration also redesigned job training, cut back on the Food Stamp Program, and was viewed by many to have fashioned a counter-productive effect on the War on Poverty.

Current Overview of the Community Action Movement

Today we still find ourselves under the umbrella of the Community Services Block Grant set up by the Reagan Administration. Many of the programs that Community Action Agencies facilitate or direct its customers to have been revamped or tailored to meet the changing and increasing needs of low income families and individuals as they evolve with time. Still some programs demonstrate opportunities for improvement.

The current state of our domestic and global economies has created an increased demand for the services provided by Community Action Agencies, at the same time we’re experiencing diminishing resources from all angles.

The Community Action Network has grown to over one-thousand agencies nation-wide providing opportunities for this country’s most impoverished citizens in all fifty states. Here in Connecticut our network has expanded to serve every single one of our 169 cities and towns. We offer options for those with very few, and create opportunities to those who rarely find them. Now more than ever are we continue to lead the fight in the War on Poverty.