The Community Action Agency of Delaware County, Inc. has been serving Delaware County’s economically disadvantaged residents for over thirty years. Delaware County Council established CAADC in 1979 to fight the “renewed war on poverty” and designated it the County’s Anti-Poverty Agency. CAADC is a private non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation managed by a 21-member Board of Directors that equally represent the public, private, and client sectors.
Incorporated in 1979 and staffed in 1980, CAADC was initially funded with only a $50,000 planning grant. CAADC started with only one employee, its first and current Chief Executive Officer, Edward T. Coleman. However, CAADC has grown extensively over the past thirty years to meet the needs and fill the gaps in services for residents of Delaware County. This includes the opening of the first family shelter, Family Management Center, at the time in Delaware County in 1983. Now over one hundred staff members work together to serve needy families and individuals. CAADC also includes numerous affiliate corporations including many dedicated solely to housing development ventures. CAADC is very proud of the fact that half of its funding comes from private sources, thus reducing our dependency on the government.
Community Action Agencies were created with the enactment of the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) of 1964. The ambitious purpose of this statute was to eliminate the causes and consequences of poverty in the United States. The Act established a federal Office of Economic Opportunity, formed state Economic Opportunity offices, and created new community-based organizations called Community Action Agencies (CAAs).
From the start, CAAs were expected to act as laboratories for innovative methods of eliminating causes of poverty, causes that neither private efforts, post-war economic growth, nor the public programs initiated before and after World War II had been able to eliminate. CAAs succeeded dramatically in this role. For example, it is in the Community Services Network that the Head Start program was developed, refined, and shared with other institutions. Today, CAAs remain the single largest delivery system for Head Start programs. Legal Services, the Community Food and Nutrition Program, Foster Grandparents, and National Youth Sports are just a few of the successful programs that began in the Community Services Network. Between 1964 and 1980 Governors and Congress regularly adapted pilot programs from CAAs to become nationwide programs. Among the largest of these programs were the energy crisis assistance programs and pilot energy conservation programs in several New England and Midwestern states. In the mid-1970s these became national programs, now known respectively as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program (DOE/WAP). In 1981 President Reagan reduced the federal government’s role by consolidating many domestic social programs into block grants to the States. The Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) was one of six block grant programs created under the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981.
While federal funding had been previously awarded directly to local agencies through several programs, the CSBG dollars now go to the States, which are required to allocate 90 percent of the funds to local “eligible entities,” most of which are CAAs. No more than five percent of the federal funds may be used by the States to administer the grant, and another five percent may be used to support state discretionary programs.
There is no “typical” Community Action Agency. No two CAAs are exactly alike because each is governed by the leadership and specific needs of its local community. Despite this fact, there is a typical CAA approach to fighting the causes of poverty. CAAs recognize that there are many different causes of poverty. Since each family is likely to be affected by more than one of these causes, local agencies offer a variety of programs that serve low-income children, families, and seniors. They coordinate emergency assistance, provide weatherization services, sponsor youth programs, operate senior centers, and provide transportation in rural areas. CAAs provide linkages to job training opportunities, GED preparation courses, and vocational education programs. They provide a range of services addressing poverty-related problems from income management and credit counseling to entrepreneurial development and small business incubators; from domestic violence crisis assistance to family development programs and parenting classes; from food pantries and emergency shelters to low-income housing development and community revitalization projects.
The common goal, enabling people to become independent of any public or charitable assistance, engenders common CAA operating methods. In general, CAAs prioritize prevention initiatives and provide extended involvement with clients to support the length of time and variety of assistance required to increase their opportunity to be economically self-sufficient. When agencies provide crisis services or when they distribute food or goods, they seek to make those contacts with their clients an introduction to opportunities for moving the clients away from dependence on stop-gap aid.
Today, the Community Action Network is made up of approximately 1,000 local, private, non-profit and public agencies that work to alleviate poverty and empower low-income families in communities throughout the United States. Most of these agencies are Community Action Agencies (CAAs) created through the Economic Opportunity Act. The balance, included under the CSBG, follow similar guidelines for structure and service. CAAs serve over 16 million low-income people yearly in 96 percent of the nation’s counties. In Pennsylvania, every county is covered by a Community Action Agency.