In order to reduce poverty in its community, a Community Action Agency works to better focus available local, state, federal, and private resources to assist low-income individuals and families to acquire useful skills and knowledge, to gain access to new opportunities, and to achieve economic self-sufficiency.
The relative prosperity of the 1950s marked a dramatic increase in poverty among children, people living in rural America, and racial minorities. In 1964, The Great Society, as envisioned by President Lyndon Johnson, was a sweeping plan to improve the lives of all Americans, regardless of their circumstances.
In Johnson's first State of the Union address on June 8, 1964, he called for an unconditional war to defeat poverty.
Inspired by President Kennedy and his New Frontier, Johnson pledged to fulfill his promise of equal opportunity for all by enacting several comprehensive changes within the federal government. In August of that same year, the Economic Opportunity Act was signed into law by President Johnson creating the nationwide initiative known as Community Action.
This work is not easy and demand is always shifting and changing. Over the years, the federal government has changed as well. The funding is now part of the Block Grant System, which allows for the flexibility and specialization of unique programs. Poverty is viewed as a systemic problem and Community Action is a systems approach to resolving those issues.
There are now 1,100 Community Action Agencies serving 99% of the counties throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. The Greater Erie Community Action Committee (GECAC) is one of 41 Community Action Agencies in Pennsylvania.
Community Action Agencies tailor assistance for local residents to solve local needs driven by a community needs assessment process and stakeholder engagement. For example, farming communities may need help forming cooperatives. Other communities may need job training or low-income housing.
The goal is to promptly stabilize a family, and thus avoid the long-term consequence of costly dependency. However, Community Action also has the capability to sustain long-term involvement in a family's progress to self-sufficiency, as well as in the development of the low-income community.
A bedrock principle of Community Action is that resources of all kinds need to be integrated so they can be used in combination to solve community and individual problems.
Community Action Agencies are required to have a tripartite board consisting of equal parts of the local private sector, public sector, and low-income community representatives. This structure brings together community leaders from each of these groups to collaborate on developing responses to local needs. This allows for Maximum Feasible Participation in both the creation and administration of Community Action programs.
The Community Services Block Grant provides federal funding for Community Action Agencies to address poverty at the community level. To receive funding, the organization must be a federally recognized Community Action Agency. Congress is aware of what Community Action is doing in their districts and has recognized our value. The Community Services Block Grant has bi-partisan support in Congress.
GECAC was incorporated in 1965 and designated by both the City and County of Erie as the Community Action Agency for Erie County. GECAC was officially recognized as a private, 501(c) 3 non-profit organization with its own local board of directors.