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President Lyndon B. Johnson

Legislative History

Community Action was born with the enactment of the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) of 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. 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).

Agency Information

DCEA was organized in 1965 as a non-profit corporation. The activities of DCEA are governed by a 27 member Board of Directors who represent all segments of the population living in each of the six counties. DCEA is a 501(c)3 tax exempt corporation and operates mainly under funds received from the Tennessee Department of Human Services, using Federal, State and local funds to provide special services.


In addition to the programmatic advice of the governing body, input is sought from the client population and the general public through community meeting, formalized questionnaires and informal comment of specific program activities as well as projects in planning stages.


All agency projects coordinate activities with other local agencies and organizations having contact with potential clients to maximize the mobilization of resources and reduce duplication in services. 


The Promise of Community Action....Community Action changes people's lives, embodies the spirit of hope, improves communities and makes America a better place to live. We care about the entire community and we are dedicated to helping people help themselves and each other. 

What Does a Community Action Agency Do?

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.

The eight goals outlined in the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) statute address different causes of poverty. Since each family is likely to be affected by more than one of these causes, the purposes of CSBG determine the type of coordinating role that CAAs play. 

The statutory goals are: 

  • Securing and Maintaining Employment

  • Securing Adequate Education

  • Better Income Management

  • Securing Adequate Housing

  • Providing Emergency Services

  • Improving Nutrition

  • Creating Linkages Among Anti-Poverty Programs

  • Achieving Self-Sufficiency

To meet these goals, 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 programs 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. The requirements of the CSBG, expertise of state and local manager shared over a generation of training and peer exchange, and above all the observation of outcomes of various interventions have led to similar program designs across the nation. 

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 and introduction to opportunities for moving the clients away from dependence on stop-gap aid.

For more information, please visit the Community Action Partnership

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.

Today, the Community Action Network is made up of more than 1,100 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 CSBG, follow similar guidelines for structure and service. CAAs serve nearly 11 million low-income people every year in 96% of the Nation's counties.

The federal CSBG Act requires CSBG programs to be administered through a tripartite board to assure decision-making and participation by low-income individuals in the development, planning, implementation, and evaluation of CSBG programs. 

The Board of Directors also play an important role in leading the agency compliance with the CSBG Organizational Standards. The board is required to be involved in matters such as:

  • Reviewing the mission statement;

  • Participating in strategic planning and the community needs assessment;

  • Receiving strategic, organizational, and programmatic updates; and

  • Receiving financial and audit reports.

Board of Directors
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