What is a Community Action Agency?

Community Action Agencies (CAAs) promote self-sufficiency and support individuals and families striving to become economically secure while investing in the future of their local communities. This national network of 1060 agencies, funded in part by the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), serves approximately 7 million families, totaling 16 million low-income persons each year. More than two-thirds have incomes at or below the federal poverty guideline.
To achieve the goal of reducing poverty, the CAA staffs manage a mix of public and private resources averaging $11 billion annually. Almost one third of this money comes from non-federal sources, including more than a billion dollars of private funding. CAAs mobilize hundreds of thousands of local volunteers to enact positive change in their communities every year. In 2010, the network expanded to meet the ballooning needs of America’s many unemployed and underemployed families. Last year, CAAs served 20.3 million individuals using more than $16 billion, including resources from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

CAAs address causes of poverty, not the symptoms, which means that:

  • CAAs work to ensure their community offers everyone opportunities to become economically secure, and
  • They invest in individuals and their families who are striving to develop their skills.

Local Control

The vast majority of Community Action Agencies (CAAs) are private non-profits, but some are agencies of local or county government. Both types of CAAs are locally-based organizations with a longstanding community presence, a community-selected governing board and transparent management systems.

CSBG requires local and state plans to address community improvements by:

  • Supporting greater civic participation
  • Developing “grassroots” public-private partnerships
  • Funding innovative community-based initiatives
  • Establishing better linkages among government programs

Place Based Solutions

Local control allows communities to assess their own needs and prescribe place-based solutions. Local plans for using CSBG funds must reflect a well-conceived strategy for ameliorating poverty; that strategy must include approaches and activities chosen from those listed in the CSBG Act which the local agency leaders deem to be necessary and effective for their community:

The list includes services that address family and individual needs including:

  • Lack of employment and education
  • Better income management
  • Better housing
  • Sound nutrition
  • Emergency services
  • Health Care services


Community Action is based on the principle that local control can best provide for sustainable community development, as well as the now-familiar notion that a “hand up” is preferable to a “handout.” Some aid programs provide only short-term assistance, leaving recipients temporarily out of harm’s way but without the skills and resources needed to break the cycle of poverty, be self-sufficient and achieve financial independence. But Community Action is different. Read more...