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Community Action Program


COMMUNITY ACTION PROGRAM. Probably the most controversial feature of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty, the Community Action Program, initiated under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, attempted to fight poverty on a local level through a massive infusion of federal funds. Despite large local variations, community action programs shared certain characteristics: nonprofit corporation status; local governing boards; heterogeneous staffs composed of professional social workers, academics, and paraprofessionals; and collective funding from many sources, including foundations and local governmental agencies as well as federal agencies. Similar approaches had been tried before, but what made the new community action programs unique and controversial was, first, the massive size of federal sponsorship; second, the speed with which programs came into being; and third, the statutory requirement that all community action programs structure board and staff decision making to include local residents.

The Economic Opportunity Act was signed into law in August 1964, and the initiative passed for a time from the federal government to the localities. Besides bringing the existence of poverty to public attention, community action programs soon generated strong adverse criticisms of the "social service establishment" for regulating the poor while maintaining them at or near subsistence levels. In some areas criticism soon led to protest demonstrations, class-action lawsuits against state and federal agencies, and demands that poor people be granted representation on all agencies that dealt with problems of poverty. Congress soon passed legislative revisions that earmarked funds for less controversial and more controllable programs, such as Project Head Start. After 1967, community action programs rapidly declined, and the reform energies that had previously gone into community action shifted to advocacy and social action movements independent of federal sponsorship. The administration of Richard M. Nixon further curtailed community action programs and substituted proposals for a largely auto-mated national program of income maintenance.


Moynihan, Daniel P. Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding. New York: Free Press, 1969.

Patterson, James T. America's Struggle against Poverty, 1900– 1985. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986.

DanielKnapp/a. g.

See alsoGreat Society ; Poverty ; Social Work .

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