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An Insider’s Perspective: A Look Behind the Anti-Poverty Programs of Kennedy and Johnson

As the Deputy Chief of Staff to the President, I was fortunate enough to work in the White House for both President Kennedy’s and President Johnson’s administrations.

Creating anti-poverty programs were never at the forefront of President Kennedy’s administrative agenda as foreign policy issues were a more pressing concern.  While on the campaign trail, Kennedy visited the poor Appalachia in West Virginia.  “As president his main antipoverty measure before 1963 was the creation of the Appalachian Regional Commission” (Lemann, 131).  Kennedy then assigned Walter Heller, head of the Council of Economic Advisors, to investigate the creation of more anti-poverty programs.

Many of his advisors, including myself, were preoccupied with maintaining voters’ support and making sure our policies would not cost us votes during the next presidential election.  This was the case when President Kennedy first attempted to propose anti-poverty legislation in the early 1960s.  After careful examination, his most prominent advisors believed that creating anti-poverty programs would bring in more votes: “a poverty program might help pull in votes- not from Northern blacks, who were going to vote Democratic anyway, but from good-hearted suburban Republican Protestant church women who might be wooed away from a moderate Republican presidential candidate like Nelson Rockefeller” (Lemann, 132).  Kennedy faced opposing viewpoints from many politicians who did not believe that poverty was an important social issue.

The creation of the President’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency was the first step in creating anti-poverty programs.  It was given the nickname “community action”.  These agencies “would operate at the ground level” (Lemann 133), would be in poor neighborhoods, would provide a wide array of social services, and “would plan its activities based on what the poor people actually wanted from government, rather than what bureaucrats in Washington thought they needed” (Lemann, 133).  Once these agencies were created, they did not function as planned.  By the mid 1960s mayors complained about that the federal government maintained too much control over the community action agencies.  The bureaucrats in Washington had prevailed and controlled the operations of the community action agencies.

Since many in Kennedy’s campaign did not support his choice to select Lyndon Johnson as his Vice Presidential candidate, many were not pleased that Johnson was sworn in as President after Kennedy’s assassination.  Johnson inherited Kennedy’s plans on poverty policy and wanted to take that and civil rights policy a step further.  In his 1964 State of the Union address, Johnson formally declared a “war on poverty.”

Within a year of the start of some of the programs, we received notices of complaints, especially from the cities’ mayors.  The mayor of Baltimore, Theodore McKeldin wrote a letter to President Johnson addressing the problems cities are facing with community action programs.  He wrote that federal bureaucrats placed too many unrealistic expectations on the programs without consulting the needs of local government (Lemann, 165).  Later that year, we received word that more mayors were dissatisfied with federal management of community action programs.  Our original intent of keeping bureaucrats out of community action programs had failed and the White House had to find a way to fix that problem.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was created in 1965 to better address the needs of urban cities.

Soon after the creation of the HUD, President Johnson announced he would be sending more troops to Vietnam.  The political tides were shifting as more Americans began to pay attention to the war instead of community action programs, which were now being associated as “black programs”.

The programs that came about during the “war on poverty” started a positive process to help the poor citizens of this country.  As President Johnson and the Democratic Party leave the White House, I worry how anti-poverty programs will proceed under president-elect Richard Nixon.  President Johnson did not care about losing votes so long as he did what he believed was right – which we have seen in regards to Civil Rights and the war on poverty.  I do hope that the next administration continues fighting the war on poverty.  However, with the war in Vietnam taking precedence in the media, I doubt that will be the case.

Washington, D.C.

January 1969

 

Sources:

Crenson, Matthew. “Organizational Factors in Citizen Participation.” Journal of Politics. 36.2 (1974): 356-378.

Lemann, Nicholas. The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America.New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.

Where Will We Go: A Mayor’s Reflections on the Past and Future

April 11, 2012 2 comments

As the current mayor of Baltimore and a former politician in the city of Baltimore, I have seen numerous positive changes occur in this city due to the great policy decisions of the men in Washington and the grit and intelligence of the Baltimore people. I did not know how effective President Johnson would be, filling the shoes of former President Kennedy, in solving the problems of our great nation. President Johnson however did not disappoint during his presidency. The Great Society programs created a great balance between all levels of government: federal, local, and state. The federal government has mobilized itself to help all members of the nation by giving us  the needed funds and support to create a greater standard for the American people.

I am especially fond of the great progress we have made with our welfare and racial policies. For example, AFDC in Baltimore has never looked better. Baltimore’s Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program has proven to be one of the finest in the nation due to the hard work of both federal and Baltimore workers, a true success story of the cooperation between the various levels of government. De jure segregation formally ended in Baltimore following the ruling in Brown v Board of Education (1954). The desegregation process took its time, but I can now say with confidence that formal segregation no longer haunts Baltimore. De facto segregation and what many sociologists refer to as “white flight” may have replaced de jure segregation but I think that both will become a relic of the past as well. I am confident that the current policies, if continued with the same fervor, will bring these groups into the new Baltimore. The economic growth of this city has been simply too great to ignore.

Yet this brings me to my reason for writing this. I believe that the Great Society may be ending at an inopportune time. I have been a great supporter of President Johnson’s efforts and it has become clear that his successor, Richard Nixon, will not maintain them in the same manner. It cannot be denied; America has turned its back on the Great Society. I have sensed a growing divide between the federal government on one side and the states and cities on the other. Last year’s Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (ACIR) report revealed that the relationship of cities, states, and Washington has deteriorated. The states and cities have become critical of the federal government’s increased role in states and cities. I also cannot lie that I have felt a loss of power in my own city.

I have also faced numerous complaints from my citizens claiming that the welfare programs and other social programs are a response to a “black problem.” They believe that these programs are meant to take money earned by working whites and give it to unemployed blacks for the sake of income equality. This is absolutely false! These programs are a means of supporting our less fortunate citizens so that they may receive a boost towards being able to help themselves.The falsehood of this attitude however does not erase the fact that this is a growing attitude. What concerns me the most is that it is a growing attitude in my own democratic party.

Baltimore mayors have enjoyed a great degree of support from the Democratic Party. In fact, the unity of our party is probably the main reason for our success. I am not sure what will happen if we begin to lose members. Blacks are devoutly loyal to our party and compose almost half of the city’s population so it should be possible to still have a large coalition if blacks and some loyal whites stay. It should be noted that many consider the victories of former mayors be the result of their ability to court black voters. Even if we are successful with a smaller constituency, those unhappy with the party’s direction can flee to the suburbs of Baltimore County and elsewhere. Racial tensions have also flared in the city. We experienced a severe series of riots following the assassination of Dr. King. Riots elsewhere in the country like in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts have also made things difficult. I am also concerned with the growing influence of Black Nationalist groups in our neighborhoods.

I believe that the Great Society and my city are both in trouble. These social attitudes need to be addressed as soon as possible if Baltimore is to continue being a great American city.

The Mayor, 1968

Krefetz, Sharon Perlman. Welfare Policy Making and City Politics.New York: Praeger Publishers, 1976.

Fuchs, Ester R. Mayors and Money: Fiscal Policy Making and City Politics in New York and Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Lemann, Nicholas. The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America.New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.

Crenson, Matthew. “Organizational Factors in Citizen Participation.” The Journal of Politics.36.2 (1974): 356-378. 08 April 2012. http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2129474?uid=3739960&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=47698865076617

Heclo, Hugh. “The Politics of Welfare Reform.” The New World of Welfare.Eds. Rebecca M. Blank and Ron Haskins. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2001. 169-199.

Conlan, Timothy. From New Federalism to Devolution: Twenty-Five Years of Intergovernmental Reform. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1998.

The Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. The Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations. Washington, D.C., 1967. http://www.library.unt.edu/gpo/acir/Reports/information/m-17-1967.pdf

Photo credit: Baltimore News American Gallery.http://archives.ubalt.edu/bsr/images/newsamerican.html

Photo credit: Marylandstater http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_L._J._D’Alesandro_III

Baltimore and Welfare: A Single Mother’s Perspective

Baltimore and Welfare: A Single Mother’s Perspective

As a single mother of two, it has been a relief to hear about the welfare initiatives that are in the progress of being executed by the government. Let me tell you, it has not been easy living here in Baltimore, trying to raise my kids with very little family or aid from anyone else. Recently, there has been a lot of talk of the government finally doing something to improve the financial situation of people like myself. Although at times I’m not sure that any action will actually take place, it helps to know that at least there is hope for an improvement to my current living conditions.

My name is Gina Tillman, and I am a single mother, currently residing in Baltimore and surviving on welfare. I’m thirty years old, and I have a thirteen year old daughter, Maya, and a nine year old son, Johnnie. Neither of their fathers is currently present in our lives, which is a source of support I wish I had the chance to rely on to make motherhood a little easier. My house is located just west of Patterson Park and Northeast Market. It’s not much of an abode, but for now it will have to do. Occasionally, I get a little help from my mother, who lives down in South Carolina and works as a maid. It’s not much, but every little bit helps. Up to this point, I have been filled with a sense of helplessness, as I feel like a powerless member of this community. There is little I can do to change my current economic situation, as no one will hire someone like me – a single mother, unable to graduate from high school because of an unexpected pregnancy at age 17. I have never had a job because I’ve always had to be at home in order to take care of my children. Now that they are getting older, I have other worries occupying me – what if Maya gets pregnant? What if my youngest ends up being a member of a gang? There are too many factors working against my community in order for us to escape the poverty, violence, and overall debilitating mindset that surround my family and me. All I know is that outside intervention is needed for significant change to take place. I’m hoping that the government will do something soon to help us out.

What I’ve mostly been hearing about are the new Community Action Programs, a government initiative that is meant to use federal financial resources to fight the war on poverty through allocation of funds to local Community Action Agencies. This sounds promising – if only someone asked us what we needed, maybe officials would act accordingly in providing us with what we are currently lacking. Our president has called for an “unconditional war on poverty,” urging us, urban recipients on welfare, to participate in changing our own destiny (Orleck, 99). There are even rumors of a dynamic poor mother’s movement taking place in Los Angeles. Imagine, mothers asking for more rights and more funding in order to provide for their families! While some critics are berating the movement, others are claiming that this sort of disruption is “the only resource, short of violence, available to low income people seeking to influence public policy” (Orleck, 111). It will be interesting to see if such a movement will occur here, in Baltimore.

What I do know, is Baltimore officials have no been idle in trying to resolve our issues. In November of 1964, the city published a report called “A Plan for Action on the Problems of Baltimore’s Disadvantaged People.” The report, inspired by an analogy of the physical renewal of the city that led to the term “human renewal,” created a plan in which “the first stage would be the design of a comprehensive plan which would translate some rough ideas on what should be done in concrete programs in the fields of health, education, and welfare; then to weave them together into a fabric with a recognizable pattern” (Steering Committee for a Plan for Action, 1). The reports further stated that city officials would divide prioritized, high poverty areas into smaller sections in order to ensure personalized attention to the resident’s problems, and even talk to citizens directly in order to pin point what our perceptions of the existing problems are.

The Action Area, the part of the city with the highest poverty rates, includes about a quarter of Baltimore’s citizens, 48,000 of which are white, and 171,000 of which are non-white. Forty percent of these residents are living on $3,000 or less annually, in housing 45% of which is considered not sound for residents, described to be “deteriorating, dilapidated or sound but lacking some plumbing facilities” (Steering Committee for a Plan for Action, 19). Fifty percent of those living in the Action Area have less than eight years of education, resulting in 9,000 unemployed residents, ten percent of which are women (Steering Committee for a Plan for Action, 16). Thirteen out of 100 people are dependent on AFDC or other types of federal aid. Other problems faced by the residents of this area include crime (13 arrests for every 100 adults residing in the Action Area in 1964), drinking, inadequate recreational facilities and programs, lack of sanitation services, low police protection rates, high school dropout rates, and a general lack of concern and motivation on the part of the city’s residents (Steering Committee for a Plan for Action, 21). The problems of my community are vast, and need to be addressed in an efficient manner in order to keep them from getting worse. There is only so much that my community can take. We need an intervention from an outside source, and hopefully the government’s Community Action Programs will provide us with the necessary attention that will allow us to address our problems and finally let us be heard in regards to what we need.

Gina Tillman

Baltimore City resident and welfare recipient, 1965

Sources:

Lemann, Nicholas. The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America. New York: Alred A. Knopf, 1991.

Steering Committee for a Plan for Action. A Plan for Action on the Problems of Baltimore’s Disadvantaged People. Baltimore: Health and Welfare Council of the Baltimore Area, November, 1964.

Orleck, Annelise. Storming Caesar’s Palace. Boston: Beacon Press, 2005. 

Community Inact…

April 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Community Inaction Agencies 

President Johnson

As a community activist for many years, I wholeheartedly support the mission of giving the poor the chance to participate in social action. In fact, in order to create effective anti-poverty programs it is absolutely essential for the poor to have a major role in shaping the policies that will affect both their own lives and their communities as a whole.

My ideology is in line not only with theorists of the 1960s, but also President Johnson’s Great Society program and the abundance of community action groups that have sprung up as a result of this legislation. The War on Poverty, in particular, led to the passage of the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act, which called for the creation of Community Action Agencies (CAA). The CAA’s, which were public or private non-profits, were seen as a “device that would draw federal, state and local programs together and meld them into an integrated assault upon the problems of poverty” (Wolman 34). This new legislation led to a huge upsurge in community action groups. In fact, approximately one-fourth of all organizations represented in Washington in 1980 were created in the fifteen-year period from 1960 to 1975 with the majority being citizens’ and social welfare groups (Conlan 15).

With hundreds of community action groups in every city, I had an overwhelming number of possibilities as I searched for a job in 1965. I decided to join the United Planning Organization (UPO), a Washington, DC based community action agency, because of their “ideology of community participation–the democratic participation of the poor in an effort to end poverty in their community” (Wolman 36). I was inspired by the UPO’s cooperation with the Metropolitan Citizen’s Advisory Commission (MCAC), which represented the city’s poor on the UPO’s advisory board.

In addition, I was passionate about UPO’s collaboration with the Ford Foundation’s Grey Area Projects (Wolman 35). The grey areas represent the zones in cities that lie between downtown and the suburbs, which are most often home to African American migrants from the South (Marris, Rein 15). The grey areas are the parts of cities most prone to racial discrimination and decay and therefore require the greatest amount of attention. The Ford Foundation’s philosophy called for effective community action, participation of all groups involved and indigenous leadership in order for a project to be successful (Rubin 19). The UPO, through the Ford Foundation, was able to construct schools in relation to urban renewal communities with a curriculum that would “stress reading, the neighborhood, preparation for a career, and ethnic cultures” (Marris, Rein 16).

In the beginning, I was extremely excited about the work I was doing with UPO. I soon began to realize, however, that the UPO and community action agencies in general were severely constrained in their ability to create change. In fact, the UPO’s ideology of community participation had come about following the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act merely as a way to gain funding for their projects. The UPO originally advocated for planning and metropolitan coordination rather than community action, however they changed their tune in order to meet the “maximum feasible participation” requirements laid out by the government (Wolman 35). The UPO had always sought to improve the DC community, but they had to completely change their goals in order to continue to receive federal funding. The reality is that “no bureau (read organization) can survive unless it is continually able to demonstrate that its services are worthwhile to some group with influence over sufficient resources to keep it alive” (Wolman 33).

"It says here Congress is anxious to get out of town"

Furthermore, the UPO had to balance an array of opinions, organizations and actors and was therefore pulled in all different directions. For example, the UPO had to deal with funders, competitors that performed the same functions as the UPO, competitors that fought for the same resources as the UPO, clients and sufferers, allies, opponents and public opinions (Wolman 34). The truth is that “the proposals that are funded are those that are consistent with the desires of the funding agencies” and therefore “the greatest role in initiation belongs to the federal government. Although [UPO] talks an awful lot about flexibility, there really is not much at the local level” (Wolman 37).

Overall, the UPO and the majority of other community action agencies grappled with these constraints. While the Economic Opportunity Act, the Ford Foundation model and the UPO began their projects with a desire to better the cities of America, the limitations of bureaucracy greatly hindered them. Although I am still an ardent believer in the effectiveness of community action, I am disillusioned by the legislation and policies surrounding these projects. I can only hope that in the future more power and flexibility is returned to the community action agencies themselves so that they can act as self-governing institutions rather than dependents of the government.

Camilla Seiler, Community Activist

April 8th, 1968

Sources:

Conlan, Timothy. From New Federalism to Devolution: Twenty-Five Years of Intergovernmental Reform. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1998. JHU Sheridan Libraries. Web. 7 Apr. 2012. <http://reserves.library.jhu.edu/access/reserves/findit/articles/spence/conl.pdf&gt;.

Marris, Peter, and Martin Rein. Dilemmas of Social Reform; Poverty and Community Action in the United States. 2nd ed. Chicago: Aldine Pub., 1973. Google. Web. 7 Apr. 2012. <http://books.google.com/books?id=zSC_XV8MQVQC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false&gt;.

Rubin, Lillian B. “Maximum Feasible Participation: The Origins, Implications, and Present Status.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 385 (1969): 14-29. JSTOR. Web. 7 Apr. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/1037533 .>.

Wolman, Harold. “Organization Theory and Community Action Agencies.” Public Administration Review 32.1 (1972): 33-42. JSTOR. Web. 7 Apr. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/974488 .>.

Photos:

Photo 1: U.S. Department of State. “Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society”. Web. 18 Apr. 2012. http://countrystudies.us/united-states/history-121.htm.

Photo 2: Block, Herb. “It says here Congress is anxious to get out of town”. October 12, 1966. Web. 18 Apr. 2012. http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/swann/herblock/ascent.html

A Theory of Poverty: Culture and Powerlessness

April 4, 2012 2 comments

The Culture of Poverty

 

     The causes and effects of poverty, to this point, have not been fully analyzed and evaluated in social science academia. John Galbraith’s The Affluent Society, published in 1958, made the startling revelation that as America’s private sector became wealthier, the public sector deteriorated, perpetuating income inequality. Within this work, Galbraith describes the existence of “insular” poverty, which “manifests itself as ‘island’ of poverty,” with unique and specific characteristics attributable to the group, not just individuals (Lemann, 150). It is these group, not individual, characteristics that perpetuate a certain culture, one that produces people who “are not psychologically geared to take full advantage of changing conditions or increased opportunities” (Lemann, 150).

The prevalent and permeating sense of hopelessness and helplessness within an impoverished community greatly contributes to the aforementioned psychological state. The poor “are like aliens in their own country,” plagued by widespread feelings of “powerlessness” and “unworthiness” (Lewis, 7). This overwhelming sense of detachment from one’s own country, this marginalization, prevents the poor from relating their socioeconomic situation to those of others like themselves throughout the world, thus illustrating a lack of class consciousness. An isolationist perspective, then, perpetuates the sense of powerlessness by dissuading the poor from class organizations such as trade unions. Indeed, when they do become members of such organizations, or “when they adopt an internationalist outlook on the world,” the poor cease to be part of the culture of poverty (Lewis, 7).

It is not only an isolationist mindset that perpetuates this culture. Physical detachment and invisibility significantly contribute to the poor’s political powerlessness and general sense of hopelessness. In the past, unskilled and semi-skilled workers constituted the poor, a mixed group that was able to see and envision a better life due to their constant interaction with the middle class. Now, the poor “are losing their links with the great world” through physical isolation from America’s middle class. The poor are only able to see themselves, giving them “little reason to hope” for a better job or a better future (Harrington). Further, this isolation makes it easy for the majority of Americans, as well as for the political system, to ignore this increasing population, diminishing what little political power the poor previously possessed. Thus, despite a person’s potential to be “paragons of will and morality,” if he is born into a desperate, disadvantaged situation, he has little chance of escaping this culture of poverty, propagating a vicious cycle that can only seemingly be stopped by significant outside intervention (Harrington).

Indeed, in order to truly help America’s growing population of the poor and destitute, this ingrained culture must be changed. The poor must feel part of this nation; they must believe that they are an integral component in the social and political processes of American government. By involving the poor in “successful and significant social action,” by giving them a say “in decisions and institutions that affect” their lives, they can then “develop psychological and social competence that will enable them to climb out of poverty” (Rubin, 18). Through this political and social involvement, the poor will then feel like they are important and influential members of their communities. Essentially, this participation produces “good citizens” who are conscious of their neighborhoods and cities, and who work to improve their surroundings through organized participation with local government (Crenson, 358).

The characteristics of impoverished neighborhoods, many of which are almost completely isolated from mainstream American society, must be transformed. It is these characteristics, namely the sense of hopelessness and powerlessness so ingrained in impoverished communities, which create the nearly inescapable culture of poverty. Only by changing these characteristics, and the poor’s debilitating mindset, can individuals overcome the culture of poverty.

Sources:

Crenson, Matthew. “Organizational Factors in Citizen Participation.” Journal of Politics. 36.2 (1974): 356-378. Print.

Harrington, Michael. The Other America. New York: millan Publishing Company, 1962. Web. <http://www3.niu.edu/~td0raf1/1960s/Other America excerpt.htm>.

Lemann, Nicholas. The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America. New York: Alred A. Knopf, 1991. Print.

Lewis, Oscar. “The Culture of Poverty.” Society. 35.2 (1963): 7-9. Web. 4 Apr. 2012. <http://www.springerlink.com/content/a6hp5248q50611u7/&gt;.

Rubin , Lillian B. “Maximum Feasible Participation: The Origins, Implications, and Present Status.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 385.14 (1969): 14-29. Web. 4 Apr. 2012. <http://ann.sagepub.com/content/385/1/14.full.pdf html>.