The War on Poverty
In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson made an unprecedented move in U.S. history by waging the War on Poverty when he passed the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA).
Passage of this act inspired the launch of the national Community Action movement, which gave promise toward the elimination of poverty. By the end of 1965, 800 Community Action agencies had been established across the United States. By 1973, the number of people experiencing poverty declined significantly from 38 million to 23 million people.
In 1971, President Nixon, dealing with a shortage of funds and internal pressure from the conservative administration, proposed dismantling the Office of Economic Opportunity. However, Community Action quickly mobilized and was able to save the federal agency from the oblivion that would have most certainly rendered it inconsequential.
In the late 1970’s, the Carter administration supported the EOA, which provided the Community Action Movement with greater traction and security moving forward. Locally, in Schenectady County, SCAP was becoming an integral part of the community.
The 80’s: A Federal Anti-poverty Agency No Longer Exists
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan abolished the Economic Opportunity Act, which resulted in the substantial reduction of federal funding for social programs. Established as a replacement to the EOA, the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) provided funding directly to the states, which were further delegated the responsibility of administering the funding to local municipalities.
In 1988, newly elected President George Bush promised a kinder, gentler America. However, in spite of this promise, by 1989, CSBG funding to New York State fell to its lowest point since 1984.
In response to these cuts, SCAP employed networking as a key strategy in ensuring that programming was used to the fullest extent. Local agencies began working together by pooling resources in order to stretch funding as far as possible. SCAP began utilizing a more creative and aggressive approach that sought alternate funding that would allow them to expand, or at least maintain, programs aimed at increasing self-sufficiency, improving living conditions and building strong family and support systems.
The 90’s: Economic Recession Grips America, the Face of Poverty Has Not Changed
Irrespective of the early success in the War on Poverty, a decade of budget cuts caused poverty rates to rise sharply. Despite efforts on the part of the federal administration to wholly eliminate the CSBG program from the proposed budget each year, organized advocacy efforts of the Community Action network were successful in restoring CSBG into the budget.
In 1992, Bill Clinton is elected President, the first Democrat to be elected since 1976. During his tenure, new initiatives in education, health care, welfare reform, employment and housing are implemented. Moreover, allocations for anti-poverty programs are increased.
During this period, SCAP publicly opposed then Governor Pataki’s efforts to balance the New York State budget on the backs of the poor and vulnerable. SCAP also initiated the first-ever Hunger Study in Schenectady County.