• Ellamae Arbuzinski

History of Community Action Agencies

Updated: May 7


Community Action Duluth, along with over 1,000 other Community Action Agencies (CAAs) nationwide, can trace their history back more than 50 years to the enactment of the Economic Opportunity Act, which is legislation brought forth by President Lyndon Johnson, inspired by his ‘War on Poverty’. This initiative was spurred by President John F. Kennedy shortly before he was assassinated. The Economic Opportunity Act was a piece of legislation aimed to address the growing amount of poverty in America.


The Economic Opportunity Act launched many social programs we still use today, such as Head Start, work-study programs for college students, Volunteers in Service to America, and more. Many conservatives at the time were resistant to the Economic Opportunity Act, but eventually its programs and services have gained mainstream acceptance. Today, CAAs are funded primarily by the Community Services Block Grant, which was introduced by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.


Community Action Duluth was started shortly after the Economic Opportunity Act was implemented, beginning as a program operated through the City of Duluth in 1965. CAD became an independent 501(c)(3) organization in 1982. CAAs were a new approach to combating poverty, as they would encourage “maximum feasible participation” or input from people in poverty to assess what would best help them. CAD does this through our Participant Advisory Council, which is a panel of past participants of our services who advise the organization. Additionally, one third of our board members have low incomes or have in the past.


CAAs would base themselves within the communities experiencing the most need, so they could be accessible to those communities. This way, federal funding is funneled directly to local agencies to distribute in a way that best meets local needs as defined by participants themselves. Every three years CAD conducts a comprehensive community needs assessment. Our programs are based on the needs expressed by participants. For example, when we learned about the high need for internet and computers, we launched the TechUp program in early 2020.


It is the core belief of CAAs that the best way to help people in poverty is to offer them the tools they need to accomplish their goals. CAD works towards this with all of our programs. You can find more information about CAAs here.

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