Community Action Groups Respond to State of the Union Address

Print Share on LinkedIn More

The President’s State of the Union address is the opposite of extemporaneous. The speech is written, revised, rehearsed, and teleprompted.  Everything in the SOTU, from stirring Presidential calls to action to embarrassing flops, is intentional, not adlibbed. 

So it was no mistake when President Barack Obama spoke about his plan to eviscerate the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) program, the federal funding mainstay of the anti-poverty programs carried out by the nation’s 1,100 community action agencies.  It wasn’t a slip of the tongue.  The President had made community action agencies the sacrificial lamb on the altar of his Republican opposition’s commitment to cut the federal budget and slow the growth of the federal deficit.


Community action agencies and their state and national associations received this like a back alley mugging; they were caught entirely by surprise.  Where had this come from?  Why did the President, a former Chicago community organizer, pick on anti-poverty programs rather than any of the thousands of other pieces of the federal budget to demonstrate his new budget-cutting mettle?  His new chief of staff, Bill Daley, clarified the SOTU message, explaining that the President’s plan is to cut CSBG by half and make the remaining funds available to any applicant, not just community action agencies. 

The plan reflected a proposal made by Independent Sector in 2009 to the Obama Administration suggesting that CSBG and some other funds be lumped together into a new fund to be administered by an independent intermediary regrantmaking organization bypassing the states and territories that now by law receive CSBG allotments and generally make them available through community action agencies and Indian tribes. 

It was an interesting proposal, in that IS, at least at that time, appeared to have no community action association members or representation from the national trade associations of CAAs.  IS essentially eyed the resources largely controlled by community action agencies as a potential resource for other nonprofits, even if doing that would gut the programs of many community action agencies.

How important is CSBG?  The FY2010 appropriation was roughly $900 million; a one-time billion was added to CSBG through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  It is the mainstay of this nation’s unfortunately insufficient and dwindling commitment to the war on poverty, a national initiative that gave birth to many nonprofits – community development corporations, community health centers, and multi-service centers – not just CAAs.

In the wake of the president’s address, Nonprofit Quarterly invited statements from various community action agency associations to explain what the President’s new plan means to them and their members.  We are publishing three responses here and hope that individual community action agencies will add their comments to embellish the stories below. 

There’s a reason for bringing the CAAs to this venue. Although almost all community action agencies are nonprofits – all CAAs relate to nonprofits in their communities through partnerships and joint programs and interagency referrals – many CAAs frequently define themselves by the array of programs (and federal appropriations) that they run, not by their roles and functions as mainstays of the nonprofit sector’s historic commitment to social and economic equity.  There is a hint of insularity in the community action movement that induces other nonprofits to make a grab for their money without much or any compunction. 

It’s probably high time for community action agencies to speak to the nonprofit sector at large, to remind the national nonprofit infrastructure about what community action agencies deliver to the nation’s poorest communities and families through CSBG funds, and to re-connect community action agencies to their historic foothold as the dedicated community-based anti-poverty wing of the U.S. nonprofit sector.  Here are three statements offered to Nonprofit Quarterly that we share with the readers of the Cohen Report that make the connections explicit and compelling.


From Denise Harlow, CEO, New York State Community Action Association

Did I hear the President of the United States correctly in his State of the Union? “So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. This would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade . . . This freeze will require painful cuts . . .  I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs . . . I’m willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without. But let’s make sure that we’re not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.”

I’m confused. Community Action Programs (CAPs) serve our most vulnerable citizens and work every day in communities to give hope and opportunity to those that society has failed. In New York, we have a network of 52 CAPs, 50 of which are nonprofit, community-based organizations.  In addition New York City invests in 200 nonprofits to serve the most vulnerable in the five boroughs.  Last year 750,000 New Yorkers got help from CAPs in New York State in urban, suburban and rural communities.

The president’s proposal would drastically cut Community Services Block Grants, money that funds many Community Action Programs.

CAPs are about maximum feasible participation. Decisions on what to fund through CSBG are made at the local level, not by a “funding source” from above. Why is the administration losing faith in communities to make their own decisions about the needs in their own communities?  Why praise Sargent Shriver for his life’s work on Saturday and then propose dismantling the network he founded to help families domestically on Tuesday?

CSBG is the only funding source that allows localities to address new needs quickly because they can shift priorities and CSBG funding quickly.  For instance, Community Action Agencies were engaged in foreclosure prevention before the government even recognized a recession was upon us.   Stimulus funds needed to be infused into low-income communities quickly and nimble CAPs around the U.S. responded quickly and used stimulus funds to create jobs, prevent homelessness, open new career paths, and provide emergency services.   CAPs quickly adapted to new reporting requirements and were held accountable through state and federal oversight. 

CAPs do their work in partnership with thousands of nonprofits, community groups, school districts, funders, and volunteers every year.  In New York State, 3.5 million volunteer hours were invested in Community Action last year; more than 1,700 partnerships were facilitated with nonprofits (more than 600 of which were with faith-based organizations); products and services were purchased by CAPs from local businesses from Buffalo to Plattsburgh to Montauk. 

Our neighbors believe in us enough to give their most valuable asset, time; our nonprofit and faith-based partners entrust us with their clients and resources; and our local businesses see us as good customers. So why is the President pulling his support? 

President Johnson’s War on Poverty is won every day in Community Action Programs across this country.  When a 23-year-old mother of two receives her Certified Nursing Assistant Certificate, when a single dad secures a used car that he can use to get to work, when parents access overnight child care and can get more hours at work, when a family finds they can access food stamps to stretch their family budget just a bit further, and when working parents can get their taxes done for free and access all the tax credits for which they are eligible, the War on Poverty is won.  Let’s hope that President Obama will change course and live up to Johnson’s Legacy.

For more information visit theNew York State Community Action Association website.


From Lana Ross, executive director, Iowa Community Action Association

After grieving the loss of Sargent Shriver two weeks ago, my grief came back full force when, during the State of the Union address, President Obama said “I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs”. This statement would seem to end the dream and the legacy, of Sargent Shriver; just days after our nation celebrated his long and productive life, within hours of his being laid to rest.

Sargent Shriver led this country’s effort to end poverty.  He believed that organizing the local community to work to alleviate poverty was the best approach and based upon that belief he designed Community Action; a network of more than a thousand local agencies that each day are, as their mission states, “helping people, changing lives.” Shriver saw and believed in the unending potential of low-income children and families and at the same time, grasped the concept that by organizing local communities to tackle these issues we help communities to see their potential. This, then, is how the country fulfills the promise of helping all people see and realize their potential and abilities.

Today, Iowa has 18 local community action agencies that provide a range of programs and services that bring opportunity and hope to children, families and communities. Every one of these agencies is unique; molded and shaped over four and a half decades to reach for Shriver’s vision by responding to the individual needs and opportunities inherent in the communities they serve.  And their work would be reduced and harmed by the proposed cut in Community Services Block Grants that the president proposed in his State of the Union address. 

One example of the work of these agencies is the Start Sooner, Stay Longer, Keep Learning Project in Marshalltown, Iowa.  CSBG funding provided the catalyst for a community to move from resignation regarding poverty and poor academic outcomes to a revitalization of hope (there’s that word, again) and, subsequently, action. 

The program targeted an elementary school that had an 82 percent free and reduced lunch rate and was the fifth poorest school in the state. The staff and volunteers of the community action agency knocked on every door in the neighborhood – more than a thousand – and found every child they could under the age of five.  Every parent was told about the early childhood opportunities in the community.

Across all sectors of the community – individuals, parents, businesses, churches, schools and non-profits – have joined this effort and have become committed to all children in the neighborhood receiving a top  notch education and all schools and families receiving the support they need to make that happen.  Preschool classrooms are now in the elementary building and pre-K enrollment is up.  Scores of parents and their children attend family resource center nights.  Parents of children under the age of three participate in reading circles and receive books and educational materials from the “Little Ones Need Words” campaign.  Parent leadership programs have begun in the neighborhood.  New resources from the community are being made available to the project. And test scores are beginning to move in the direction all had hoped they would. 

This transformation from resignation to action was made possible because of CSBG and because there was an agency with a 45-plus-year history in the community that could gain trust, facilitate growing community knowledge and provide structures for action. That doesn’t happen overnight. These antipoverty efforts are marathons, not sprints.

Another example of how CSBG funds can bring hope and opportunity can be seen in this testimonial from Mayor Leigh A. Rekow, of Postville, Iowa: “Northeast Iowa Community Action Corporation’s Family Service worker was instrumental in assisting our Agri-Processors work force following the raid of May 2008.  Many workers were left in our City without an income.  With the funding from the CSBG program through the NEICAC, Letha [the Family Service worker] worked diligently to provide much needed assistance for helping to pay their utility bills.  She and the City of Postville worked together many times to assist those unable to pay their utility bills.  She was a compassionate and caring person while working many hours with people who were scared and struggling.”  This is the norm for Community Action Programs, and we are proud of that our agencies deliver throughout Iowa. 
The challenges facing us now require bold steps from Congress. One of those steps is choosing to continue to invest in the Community Service Block Grant to help secure the long term health of our families and our communities.  Community action agencies have worked for decades at the local level to provide economic and social opportunities to our community’s most vulnerable and to alleviate the conditions of poverty. These community-based efforts are needed now more than ever.  

For more information visit theIowa Community Action Association website.


From Gretchen Knowlton, Special Assistant to the Executive Director, National Association for State Community Services Programs

When is an economic recovery not really a recovery at all? It’s when the poorest Americans, those disproportionately affected by the Great Recession, don’t, well, recover. In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama pledged not to make spending cuts “on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.” But in singling out community action programs as a sacrificial lamb for the new House of Representatives, he’s about to do just that.

While there’s never a good time to balance the budget on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens, it’s hard to think of a worse time. State budgets are a mess, and aren’t going to buck up anytime soon. The rising stock market, increasing consumer confidence, and an improving federal revenue picture haven’t corresponded to a recovery of the states’ fiscal health. The ARRA money that plugged the holes is gone, and the boats are taking on water again.

But just what are community action programs? You could work for years in this business and still not know. Community action programs are a network of over a thousand local agencies that offer a full spectrum of wraparound services to help vulnerable Americans access employment, education, and housing.

On the chopping block is the Community Services Block Grant network, which funds these programs to the tune of $700 million annually. The administration proposes to cut that number in half. This would seem counter-productive because the Block Grant system is the only federal program exclusively focused on reducing poverty. It’s a commonsense and effective strategy that uses a powerful mix of federal, state, and local resources to address the problems that lead to systemic poverty. While a lot of programs focus on disparate issues, CSBG is effective because it allows states to strategically target the full range of root causes on a local level. In FY 2009, with some extra juice from ARRA funds, CSBG helped 20.7 million Americans seize economic opportunities.

So why would the Obama administration propose cuts to a proven program that’s actually working? The program isn’t new, it’s not sexy, and its very comprehensiveness makes it hard to define handily in three sentences or fewer. Also, it’s not competitive. States have to fork over funds to some of the same agencies every year with limited tools to enforce accountability. That’s a concern, but not an unmanageable one. Perhaps more importantly, unlike some of the flashier programs the administration loves, the CSBG network doesn’t generate terabytes of data about itself every day to justify its own existence.

But while the numbers on community action programs might not be as granular as we’d like to see, a few broad brushstrokes still paint a compelling picture, and it’s not pretty. Right off the bat, for example, the proposed cut will impact and disrupt an $11.9 billion CSBG network (pdf). This is good for business? Then there are the 681,000 people who obtained stable employment over the last five years with the help of community action agencies. Don’t count on a similar number over the next five years.

  FREE DELIVERY | Click Here to sign up for THE NONPROFIT NEWSWIRE, Delivered Daily >>

A ripple effect will spread to other government programs, and ultimately to other non-profits. The beauty of the state-administered CSBG network is that it provides a broad strategic framework and creates a seamless, efficient, and effective delivery system for what would otherwise be a disparate collection of isolated State and Federal programs. So cuts in community action programs mean reduced capacity for other State and Federal programs – most notably, the Weatherization Assistance Program, which works to improve the energy efficiency of low-income homes using the most advanced technologies in the housing industry.

The Community Action network has such expansive reach that the aftershocks from any cut in CSBG community action programs will be felt by nonprofits across the nation. Other nonprofits will experience increased demand when community action programs are forced to eliminate services, or perhaps close their doors.

Nearly 160,000 nonprofits, businesses, schools, and other community organizations are touched by Community Action every day. In some communities, Community Action is the only place for vulnerable Americans to turn. These are troubling scenarios, at a time when nonprofits across the country are already stretched to their limits due to increased need for services, state budget cuts, and reduced fundraising brought on by the financial crisis.

For additional information on NASCSP please contact: Jeannie Chaffin,, 202.624.7738. And visit their website.

  • LaQuita

    Why at times of some of our greatest need are we ripping away at the backbone of what is working to assist our most vulnerable population? In rural areas the Community Action agency is often the only assistance they have access too and tust because it is part of their community.

  • rick cohen

    There’s no debating that fact. I keynoted one day of the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies conference and was struck by the significant roles that CAPs play in rural areas, sometimes without much recognition or visibility. And, of course, in rural areas, there is much hidden poverty that doesn’t make it to the radar screens of many political pundits. Thanks for bringing that to the attention of NPQ readers.

  • Chris Sieber

    Thanks for insightful coverage of a critical issue. I do believe it’s a significant signal for the NPO community–and a very ominous one! Especially because the allegations made about the performance of CSBG agencies–lack of documented effectiveness, etc.–are demonstrably incorrect (For more on how the Community Action agencies are fighting back, see

  • rick cohen

    Chris: It would be hard to believe that CAPs aren’t documenting their effectiveness (as implicitly Jacob Lew said in a NYTimes op-ed which I’m contributing to the NPQ Newswire tomorrow). Can you offer some information and citations on what you know about that might be examples of how CSBG recipients do demonstrate and document their effectiveness? Thanks.

  • Amy Turner

    I believe that all of us must “share in the sacrifice”, except for those who have nothing left to sacrifice – the families we serve through the Community Action network. The proposed changes to this valuable community resource are not only discouraging but they make no sense. The CSBG budget is less then one percent of the entire discretionary budget and this proposal will save nothing! It will only cause more suffering! I think the folks making these recommendations need to walk a couple steps in real family’s life to better understand the challenges.

    At our agency in upstate New York, 75% of the families we help our working! And over fifty percent of those families are women with children! Doesn’t that tell us something! Our supports keep these families above water and some find there way to higher education and better jobs – the reality though is there is not enough better jobs!

    Community Action works!

  • JulieinNY

    Cutting CSBG will not just mean cutting crucial services for low-income families (at a time when millions of families are living in poverty), but also important service jobs that are needed in this economy. Now is the time to bring out the evidence about the multiple ways that Community Action Agencies help families and individuals every day. From free tax preparation, bringing families millions of dollars in refunds to providing access to energy assistance and other supports, comunity action agencies serve their communities in critical ways.

  • Tawny Stottlemire

    The parking lot, lobby, and every available nook and cranny of the offices of Community Action, Inc. in Topeka, Kansas are completely filled today with community members who will receive free assistance with tax preparation. Notably, the lobby of the high-cost payday lending operation just down the street is seemingly vacant. Coincidence? Not in the slightest. CAAs are offering critical services and creating partnerships that strengthen families and communities in Kansas and nationwide each and every day. Amidst the hustle and bustle of working one-on-one with hundreds of customers and delivering comprehensive programs that produce real impacts, CAAs also devote the necessary time and energy to be accountable to the high standards of government and private funders, document program outcomes, and promote innovation and excellence amongst their staff. Poverty isn’t a popular media subject and the Community Action network doesn’t pour copious amounts of dollars into public relations campaigns so the invaluable work of the network isn’t always front-and-center news. Rather, CAA use their precious resources change lives and improve communities. As a community member and tax payer, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Hats off to the volunteer board members, faith-based leaders, local elected officials, and low-income people who are coming out of the woodwork to speak out and stand-up for your Community Action Agencies. Community Action gives voice to low-income people and poor communities. It’s time to use that voice in full force.

  • Deb Schimpf

    I agree that President Obama’s SOTU was a carefully scripted speech and that by no means was his mention of community action adlibed! Community Action served 20.7 million people in poverty in 2009 and when the President called on community action to infuse immediate assistance into the local communities in the wake of the economic crisis community action performed. This isn’t anecdotal information and the results are public information. Now, in the wake of the election results community action has been used by President Obama as a sacrficial offering to his opponents. A sign that he is willing to do more to compromise. All of that sounds reasonable until you consider that at 1/2 of 1% of domestic spending, community action funding is just the beginning of what will be cut to reduce the deficit. If President Obama holds community action near and dear to his heart, I can’t imagine what he will do with programs for the poor and vulnerable that he doesn’t hold near and dear to his heart. Many people are a paycheck away from poverty and many more are working every day and living in poverty. Republicans and democrats alike support the work of community action and care deeply about the poor and vulnerable of their communities. There are many other non-domestic spending ways to reduce the deficit that will not create further devastation on the poor of our community. Mr. President find an alternative that isn’t so destructive. 1/2 of 1% is not a savings worth sacrificing this critical network for.

  • Chris Sieber

    Always glad to dicuss data! The big answer is that all Community Action Agencies have been working with the Results-Oriented Management Accountability (ROMA) system of national outcome indicators since the early 90’s, meaning that we’re all collecting and reporting outcomes in all our activities. I’m most familiar with the summary data from ABCD (see statistical summary referenced at This sort of data is collated nationally by NASCSP (see
    On our level, we’re tracking overall impacts ike change in income and other indices of well-being and self-sufficiency for program participants.

  • EmilyA

    In the SOTU, President Obama stated he is willing to

  • Steve Payne

    I have worked with community action agencies since 1980 at the state adminisrative level. I have seen the results of CAP’s work…the families helped and the lives changed. This important network of community-based organizations has provided remarkable service to people in need. It’s an unfortunate fact that there are people with limited or no income who need help. Over the past couple of years, we have seen many people who lost jobs and are faced for the first time being in poverty. The CAP has earned a place in many of our communities as a central resource. Yes, there are many services available, including community churches and other nonprofits. However, the core mission of every CAP, which is unlike any other nonprofit, is to help people move out of poverty. A person in need walks through the door can receive help, as long as funds are available. The CAP will do everything it can to do something for that person in need. It’s important for others to understand that states play a key role as well as administrators of the public’s dollar. States collaborate with CAPs to ensure that limited funds are used strategically. In addition, states provide assurance to the federal funder, and the public, that taxpayer funds are used appropriately and accountably. In tight budget times, CAPs and states are quite aware of the responsibility to use the public’s dollar prudently and effectively. It’s also these tight times when people need a little compassion, a small boost, a guide, a lending hand. I am proud to have worked with so many dedicated people working for CAP organizations who’s mission in life is to help others in need. I hope we can continue to support these vital organizations do their critical community work.

  • Ann Fisher

    As a statewide reentry program Virginia CARES subcontracts its program to CAAs across the state. The CAAs in Virginia have already initially lost their state funding for the upcoming fiscal year. A 50% cut to their CSBG funds will effectively eliminate programs to Virginia’s neediest population. It’s contradictory to advocate (US Attorney’s Cabinet Level meeting on reentry and Governor McDonnell’s reentry initiative in Virginia) for the exoffender population, but eliminate funding for the physical service sites for the program.

  • MelissaS

    I am very disappointed in the Obama Administration’s comment to cut CSBG funding. I’m afraid Mr. Obama has forgotten the very platform that got him elected in the first place. Why in the world would he want to cut services to the very poorest of our nation? Community Action Agencies are unique in the non-profit world because we are truly teaching people to become self-sufficient. We don’t give them money just because they meet certain eligibility criteria – we teach them a new way to live and make decisions with a little support along the way. Who will these people turn to when their local CAA closes their doors. Some of these agencies have been in operation for over 45 years – that in itself speaks to the success of their programs.

  • Lorrie M

    Having worked for years in the for profit world,I am always amazed at they dynamics of our Community Action. Where else can you see the poor helping the poor? Many of our employees are on below the poverty level themselves and work hand in hand with their communities bringing in matching funds to their programs. The way I see this, %#*& rolls down hill. This is the administration’s way of pacifying the cry for spending cuts.

  • David Wiseman

    Why cut the services and resources of our most at risk population? The cuts to the CSBG fund will create more of the people that we are trying to assist to get on their feet and could very well destroy the ones that we are currently helping!! We ARE HELPING!! If Mr.Obama wants to cut anything, cut space travel. Spend the money on people on this planet that actually need it!!

  • Elissa Mitchell

    As the Executive Director of a small rural Community Action Agency in southwestern Montana, I know firsthand the role that the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) plays in rural states. In many cases, Community Action is the ONLY vehicle for assessing need and providing assistance in developing solutions to unique rural issues. In partnership with local governments,faith-based and human services partners, and interested citizens, our Community Action Agency assesses need at the rural community level. Community Services Block Grant (CSBG)dollars are used to strategically address identified areas of need and,at times, provides seed capital to fund an initiative to address a need.

    For example-In assessing needs in our Community Action district, our Board of Directors identified that our rural counties lacked capacity to seek solutions to some of their needs. Using the Community Services Block Grant(CSBG), our Agency’s Board of Directors responded to this locally identified need by providing a free grant writing and organizational development workshop in several rural counties for groups of citizens who had identified a need but didn’t know how to go about finding a solution. The Agency continues to follow up by providing technical assistance with grant application preparation and/or organizational development, such as preparing incorporation paperwork or applying for tax exempt status. To date, this effort has succeeded in the following ways: a local group wrote and received a grant to purchase a badly needed ambulance for their community; a community has just about completed the process of developing a community foundation; and our Community Action Agency is assisting a small community to perhaps transition their former hospital building into a community facility to be occupied by non-profit groups and/or a small business incubator.

    These types of efforts take place because the federal government appropriated the Community Services Block Grant funds. They, in turn, rely upon Community Action Agencies to work with local communities to development solutions to meet local needs. Our rural communities trust our agency. They have confidence that our work benefits their communities.

    CSBG is the building block that our Community Action Agency uses in assisting citizens in rural communities to help themselves. It is this type of grassroots organzing that builds stronger, more unified communities – Communities where people are helping one another to creatively solve their own problems.

    The intents and purposes for which Community Action and the Community Services Block Grant, its building block source of funds, is alive and well in southwestern Montana. Our Community Action Agency understands how it’s supposed to work. The federal government needs to continue the program at a reasonable level which will allow Community Action Agencies to continue our very important work at the local rural level.

  • Keri

    I am so disappointed with our President who stated in one breath he would not make cuts to the most vulnerable citizens and then proposed cuts to the Community Services Block Grant. We have people who are working 2 jobs to try to make ends meet. The low wage earners are served by the Community Action Agencies. Small businesses have been developed because of CSBG, people have been trained and hired in good jobs because of CSBG. Our local Community Action Agency is a trusted organization in my community.

  • Jessica Long

    Today, Community Action Agency directors and boards in Missouri are laboring over how to provide services with half the resources they currently have. With Community Services Block Grant up for a 58% cut in the continuing resolution and a 50% cut to next year

  • rick cohen

    Thanks for the update, especially pointing out the cut in the continuing resolution in addition to next year’s budget. It is a double whack on the poor. Of course, the cut in next year’s funding, if it follows Chief of Staff Daley’s statement, wouldn’t be guaranteed to community action agencies, so it’s even worse for them and for their low and very low income constituencies. Please keep the NPQ readership on top of what Missouri’s groups do to counter this situation. Thanks.

  • rick cohen

    Thank you for reminding NPQ’s readers about the longtime rural commitment of community action agencies. In many rural areas, community action agencies provide soup to nuts support that wouldn’t exist otherwise. But as I’ve noted before, making CSBG competitively open to non-community action service deliverers has potentially deleterious impacts on rural agencies that don’t have the bigtime matching dollars and other resources that will help them in an otherwise free-for-all grant competition.

  • David Cearley

    Thus actually reminds me of what happens when anyone tries to rein in spending in almost any taxing authority. People complain about inefficiency and waste, so the politicians pick out the most popular programs and services (the library comes to mind) and tell the public that without tax increases, those sacred cows simply MUST be sacrificed. Considering our $1.5 trillion dollar annual deficit, and Obama’s support for multi billion dollar trains to nowhere, billions to prop up outrageously inefficient alternative energy and other multibillon dollar new programs and the proposed cut in funding to very efficient social service programs lead me to the conclusion that this is all political posturing to anger social activists and make conservatives look like Scrooge. considering his propensity to throw friends under the bus for political expediency, I doubt he will actually cut programs that have broad based support. At the same time, we cannot ignore that taxpayers and the government cannot afford to continue borrowing more than one hundred fifty billion dollars a month from the next generation to pay for current programs. Most non profit fundraising seems concentrated on federal dollars. We’re going to have to do a much better job of educating the public and securing funding from representatives at the state and local level.

  • rick cohen

    Thanks so much! I hope NPQ readers look at the data that is collected by individual agencies such as ABCD and aggregated by groups such as NASCSP. But I still don’t quite buy the performance issue as a legitimate issue behind the Administration’s decision here. I think that’s something of a smokescreen. Nonetheless, you have to show the evidence to an administration that claims it is interested in evidence for its decision-making. If it truly is making decisions based on the evidence, then something is amiss here, the evidence doesn’t justify the action.

  • rick cohen

    I can tell you that from casual conversations I’ve had with people who approach me about the SOTU, the signal that the President sent about antipoverty work and community action agencies is as damaging as the CSBG cut itself. This isn’t going to be easy, there’s a lot of work waiting for the community action movement.

  • rick cohen

    That’s amazing. The reentry issue is so important and so difficult, do people not get it? I’m stunned.

  • rick cohen

    Yes, it is the administration’s way of demonstrating a commitment to spending cuts, but as a friend told me this morning over coffee, why not cut the military or corporate subsidies or areas where the potential for difference-making cuts is bigger and they don’t take a whack out of aid for the poor? The CSBG cut means nothing in terms of federal discretionary expenditures, it means tons for its impact on people in need.

  • MacDonald Stacks

    The problem is not so much that CAA’s dont collect the data, the problem is that some states and the federal Office of Community Services have done very little to compile and publish the data. The local agencies have all adopted a federall mandated data collection system and have been submitting this data via their state governments for many years. The states, or most of them, compile the data and send it on the feds. The national organization representing the state agencies have done the most to compile the data and present it to anyone who will listen.
    However, this is a political decision by Obama to sacrifice this and other programs of the alter of “bi-partisanship”.
    The time has come for a thorough re-evaluation of the community action movement. There are too many small single county agencies that are inefficient and that could be merged or consolidated with larger more efficient agencies. Many national organizations such as the Red Cross, scouting, Goodwill and many others have already done this. Community Action needs to step up and give up their little turfs and team up with the stronger more efficient CAP organizations.
    In addition, the role of state government needs to be reassessed, millions of dollars are spent on state bureaucracies to administer the block grant. Are these really necessary? The CDBG block grant goes directly to larger municipalities, the CAP grants could do the same thing.
    While Obama’s cuts are ill-timed and ill-conceived, maybe they will provide the needed impetus to re-structure and re-organize the CAP movement.

  • Rose Adams

    Community Action is the framework that holds up and secures the nation’s safety net. Community Action is the embodiment of the AUDACITY OF HOPE.

  • rick cohen

    Thank you for the interesting commentary. As you know, there are both pros and cons to the issue of mergers in this instance. Usually, the small CAAs that would end up being merged into larger agencies would be rural ones. If you look at my article in the winter issue of the Quarterly’s print magazine concerning an Easter Seals merger affecting rural Humboldt County, the issues aren’t easy to resolve. In these mergers, rural areas often lose out on their nonprofit infrastructure, and the “efficiencies” that are created don’t necessarily help rural counties. Remember, also, in all communities, certainly rural communities, community action agencies do more than deliver services, they serve a small “d” democracy role in giving voice to rural communities that are usually left out of the dialogue of expressing their needs and concerns. It would be very useful to hear from rural communities about how they feel about how they have fared in the structure of CDBG, in which larger urban communities get entitlement grants by formula, while rural areas get to participate in the allocations that go to states. Thank you for raising these issues. I hope that NPQ readers weigh in.