A Second Generation of Poverty, Under Funded and Marginalized

April 19, 2012 3 comments

A Second Generation of Poverty, Under Funded and Marginalized

The year is 1985, and I can feel a shift in the way the country is thinking about poverty. It’s been four tough years since the passing of my mother, Gina Tillman. I never expected it to be so hard without her – I guess I never even realized how much she helped me out. All I know is that I have definitely been struggling to make ends meet, and the recent government reforms in welfare and society programs have only made my day-to-day more complicated and harder to manage.

My name is Maya Tillman, and I am a thirty three year old mother of three. You may have had the chance to meet my mother, Gina, a while back when President Johnson was in the process of enacting the Great Society programs in order to help families like mine. She died a couple of years ago from a heart attack – it was sudden. I was not prepared to lose her – she was my support system, providing whatever little money she had to help me raise my kids. Watching her raise me and Johnnie, I always told myself that there was no way I was going to raise my kids without a father, and I was successful for a while. Charles and I had Yvette, our first daughter, together when I was twenty three. The twins, Kenny and Robbie followed just two years later. Although Charles and I never got married, things were going really well for some time. Charles was working part time, and I was bringing in enough from welfare aid to keep us in our small apartment. But two years ago, Charles took a turn for the worse. He got mixed up in drugs, and eventually started using himself. When I saw that this habit was becoming detrimental to our way of life, and especially the lives of my children, I told him to get out. He packed his bags, and I haven’t seen him ever since.

I’m not going to lie – these days we’re struggling. With the recent welfare reforms enacted by President Reagan, I’m seeing less and less income from my welfare checks. My brother Johnnie, the only relative I have inBaltimore, tries to help out as much as he can, but he has his own family to take care of, and I can’t continue relying on him for everything. As I said, I’m getting less and less money every month, and with my kids getting older, the expenses are only growing. This makes me want to ask a question – how much of an obligation does the American society have to take care of its own people?

Ever since President Reagan came to office, we have been hearing about changes to the existing welfare programs, including budget cuts and less intervention from the federal level. My neighbor Lucille Phillips, a mother of seven with whom I currently share our brick rowhouse in West Baltimore, had her first baby in the 1960’s right after quitting the seventh grade at age 14. Because of the recent cuts in welfare funding, Lucille has been looking for her first job at the age of 39. The other day, she told me, “It’s not so easy to get jobs, but I can read and write. I can do pretty good, and I’m not ashamed to ask questions. I’m looking for main or housekeeper work. That’s the best with my education” (McNulty). I think that with many of the welfare programs receiving less funding, competition for jobs will only increase, making it harder for people like Lucille and I to be employed. Another one of the women on my block, Denise Green, a single mother of 3 and the head of her household, doesn’t even have the chance to look for work because she has to stay home in order to look after her children. She is hesitant to leave them with strangers, and “the welfare won’t pay family to watch them” (McNulty). Furthermore, the amount of federal money available for helping people get training and find jobs has been cut significantly during the last four years, and while “Baltimore found summer work for 17,5000 young men and women…this summer we hope to [have] 4,000 working.” Chances seem slim that Lucille, Denise and I will be a part of those four thousand new employees.

It seems like giving the city more flexibility without giving it the financial resources necessary to help those on welfare makes no sense. In 1982, 15.2% of Americans were living below the poverty line, and this number has only been rising during the last several years, with 868,000 more dropping below the line in 1983. I recently heard that the Reagan administration is even considering changing the definition of poverty to include noncash aid given to the poor, “money handed out in food stamps and subsidized housing” (McNulty). If these numbers are to be included in the poverty definition, only 10% of Americans would be considered to be living below the line. It seems like the current mindset of the administration is that “if the poverty levels were lowered by as much as a third, then the government doesn’t need to do as much, and therefore it can afford to spend less on the poor” (McNulty). Just seems like an excuse to reduce welfare aid to me. Politicians keep saying “that people are unemployed because they are not trying hard enough, that the jobs are there if they want them” (McNulty). All I know is that AFDC payments have been reduced by 36% during the last decade, making it harder for me to support my children, especially with my mother and Charles.

I hear many saying that welfare benefits only encourage a lack of responsibility, and that helping the poor is counterproductive, as it creates dependency on the state. But how am I, a single mother of three, supposed to support my children without any family or a husband? This raises not only anger, but also a lot of questions on my part. Is the government against me? Why is funding being cut? Will it really encourage others to go out and look for work, even when there aren’t enough jobs available? Is there a more logical solution to the welfare question? I hope the government changes their policies soon. Without work and a support system of relatives, I really rely on the welfare payments to help me take care of my family and provide for my kids.

– Maya Tillman, single mother on welfare, 1985


Chicago Tribune, March 17, 1985. Timothy J. McNulty. New Approaches To Poverty Alter Conscience Of Nation.

<http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1985-03-17/news/8501150831_1_poverty-great-society-americans>. (April 18, 2012).


New Federalism, New Problems

April 17, 2012 Leave a comment

William Steig

While it’s true that the Great Society programs had many flaws, President Reagan’s New Federalism initiatives have done even more harm for nonprofit organizations. As a member of a nonprofit group I was initially very excited to hear about Reagan’s plan. New Federalism promised to return power to the state and local governments, cutting back on the debilitating bureaucratic constraints imposed by the Great Society and allowing for more flexibility and creativity on the ground level.

The reality of New Federalism, however, was very different. Reagan returned power to state and local governments not to increase their creative control or flexibility, but to pass off “administrative, financial and policy-setting responsibility [to] lower levels of government” (Palmer 15). This was a way to cut the size and costs of the federal government at the expense of state and local governments. For instance, federal aid packages that funded social welfare programs and community development organizations were singled out for the sharpest budget cuts. In fact in FY1982, Congress consolidated 77 categorical programs into 9 block grants and from FY 1981-FY 1985 reduced the income available to nonprofits by $35 billion (Palmer 12). These kinds of policies have severely prohibited nonprofits, such as my own, from carrying out our visions. We might have more control over how to spend our money, but this means nothing if we have no money to spend in the first place. As a result of these cuts, the individual recipients of our services and our communities as a whole are suffering. After all, nonprofit organizations play a substantial role in communities. In 1980, nonprofits in the U.S. spent $70 billion on health care, $25.2 billion on education/research and $13.2 billion on social services (Anheier, Seibel 221). Cutting funding for nonprofit groups has had negative effects on individuals, communities and the country as a whole.

To replace the significant cuts in federal funding for nonprofits, the Reagan administration has encouraged nonprofits to increase the number of private contributions they receive. But in order to hold constant the real value of nonprofits, charitable donations between 1983-1985 would have to increase 40% annually. In addition, it doesn’t help that the Reagan administration has changed the federal tax policy to raise the after-tax costs of private donations (Palmer 13). To replace federal funding Reagan is pushing nonprofits into a purely free market system, however these institutions were created to serve not to compete. Today, my organization is forced to spend valuable time fundraising and networking instead of implementing our programs and making a positive difference in our communities.

Not only did the Reagan administration cut funding for nonprofits, but he directly cut many social welfare programs. For example, he reduced extended unemployment benefits, increased patient cost sharing in Medicare and tightened the income eligibility restrictions in school lunch programs (Palmer 17). Overall, fewer people are eligible for programs and those that are still eligible receive fewer benefits. Also, these cuts have primarily affected the low-income families that have the greatest need for such programs.

Reagan’s policies may have advocated for more creativity and flexibility on the state and local levels, but the federal government continues to assert power over nonprofits by restricting their resources. The reality is that the government provides a huge proportion of the funding needed to operate nonprofits. If this funding is not reestablished, nonprofits will be unable to deliver and distribute the services that the government is responsible for providing and that the public desperately needs (Anheier, Seibel 229).

Camilla Seiler, Community Activist

April 17th, 1985


Anheier, Helmut K., and Wolfgang Seibel. The Third Sector: Comparative Studies of Nonprofit Organizations. Berlin: Walter De Gruyter, 1990. Print.

Palmer, John Logan, and Isabel V. Sawhill. The Reagan Experiment. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute, 1982. Print.

Changing Domestic Priorities Project Ser.

Smith, Steven Rathgeb, and Michael Lipsky. Nonprofits for Hire: The Welfare State in the Age of Contracting. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1993. Print.


Steig, William. “Woman writing letter”. September 12, 1988. Web. 18 Apr. 2012. http://www.condenaststore.com/-sp/Dear-President-Reagan-You-know-as-well-as-I-do-New-Yorker-Cartoon-Prints_i8537630_.htm

The Great Society Programs: The Need for a Restructuring

April 16, 2012 Leave a comment

The welfare programs of the Great Society, while admirable, have been a marked failure for the federal government, both in their success rates and in their administration. The federal government bureaucracy is too bloated and complicated to effectively administer these policies. Moreover, by imposing its will on the states, the federal government is diminishing the opportunity for experimentation and flexibility. Allowing for these would greatly enhance the effectiveness of the Great Society programs, as each state would be able to tailor funds towards its specific needs rather than adhere to a blanket method provided by the federal government. Indeed, the Great Society resulted in substantial “governmental fragmentation, inadequate coordination, growing intergovernmental conflict, and federal intrusiveness,” all of which hampered the administration of welfare policies (Conlan, 6). To avoid these problems, the role of the federal government in welfare policy must be reduced and delegated to the states, as they were before the Great Society.

The role of government in administering welfare programs not only should be restructured, but it also should be substantially reduced. Some economists such as Milton Friedman have argued for the implementation of a negative income tax, where people who earn below a certain amount receive supplemental income from the government rather than pay taxes and then receive a welfare check. One of the War on Poverty’s fatal mistakes was in assuming the poor’s needs were primarily social instead of economic (Danziger, 7). The NIT would address this economic need while substantially reducing the government’s role in welfare programs, and, in theory, would eventually eliminate the need for welfare programs altogether, instead using the tax code to establish a social safety net. Compared to AFDC, NIT “provides recipients greater freedom of choice…does not interfere directly in labor markets, and has relatively modest…work disincentives,” a crucial factor in welfare’s long-term effectiveness (Danziger, 11). Through greater nationalization of income maintenance, the NIT creates “a more uniform, effective, and equitable welfare system” by decentralizing federal involvement in traditionally state and local initiatives such as community development (Conlan, 20-21).

While an NIT would effectively reduce the role of government in welfare administration, it is imperative that this program also includes work incentives to avoid fostering a culture of welfare dependency. Without these incentives, the poor will become comfortable receiving a fixed income from the government, thus diminishing their motivation to seek employment and resulting in a continuous increase in the number of people on welfare. It is true that “the poor need support,” but the poor “also require structure” and inducements to become effective members of society (Mead, 22). By enacting limits and contingencies on welfare recipients, the poor would then be enabled, even enticed, “to achieve their long-run goals,” such as steady employment or a stable family life (Mead, 23). Enforcing certain productive values and targeting individual characteristics and incentives better motivates welfare recipients to seek employment and “integrates the seriously poor into the larger society” (Mead, 27-28).

The Great Society was correct in enacting a social safety net for America’s most vulnerable populations, but its methods and administration resulted in ineffective welfare programs and a bloated government bureaucracy. Intergovernmental relations need to be restructured, beginning with a reduction in the federal government’s role in welfare programs. This restructuring, coupled with work incentives and increased emphasis on personal responsibility, would create more effective policies in the long-term and reduce the number of welfare recipients. Indeed, welfare should no longer be considered a handout from the federal government, but rather a localized system that motivates individuals to become socially and economically responsible citizens.


Conlan, Timothy. From New Federalism to Devolution: Twenty-Five Years of Intergovernmental Reform. Washington, DC : The Brookings Institution, 1998. 1-35. Print.

Danziger, Sheldon. “Welfare Reform Policy from Nixon to Clinton: What Role for Social Science?”. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan, 1998. Print.

Mead, Lawrence M. The New Paternalism: Supervisory Approaches to Poverty. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution, 1997. 1-38. Print.

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



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


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


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 .>.


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