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Munoz: For 50 years, Community Action Agencies have given Utahns a hand up

By Barbara Muñoz

First Published May 25 2014 08:36 am • Last Updated May 25 2014 08:36 am

On May 6, Gov. Gary Herbert declared May Community Action Month in Utah. We are thrilled that our governor recognizes the incredible value that Community Action Agencies – which are locally designed, locally implemented and locally run — have been providing to Utahns for 50 years.

"For the war against poverty will not be won here in Washington. It must be won in the field, in every private home, in every public office, from the courthouse to the White House."

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This powerful statement was made by President Lyndon Johnson in his 1964 State of the Union Address when he declared the War on Poverty in the United States. While campaigning in West Virginia, Johnson was struck by the poverty he encountered, particularly in a country with so much wealth and abundant resources. Johnson garnered support from Congress for the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 which would establish funding for Community Action Agencies throughout the country.

President Johnson and his supporters understood that poverty could not be addressed in a "one size fits all" manner as the needs of low-income families and individuals varied so much by factors such as geographical location, age and availability of jobs and education. Johnson and his chosen leader of the War on Povery, R. Sargent "Sarge" Shriver, sought to create local programs that would help people lift themselves out of poverty in ways that showed compassion and helped them keep their dignity. Through a concept called Maximum Feasible Success, Community Action Agencies have been established nationwide with over 1,100 in operation today.

Although much of the funding for these Community Action Agencies comes from a federal block grant, Community Services Block Grant (CSBG), what kind of programs and the services they offer are determined locally, by people who live and work in the communities they serve. These targeted programs have helped local communities with job training and placement, affordable housing, financial education, free tax preparation, food pantries, early childhood education, and weatherization just to name a few. The people aided by these programs are veterans, children, senior citizens, and hard-working families. The assistance they have received from local Community Action Agencies have helped them complete their education, secure stable and affordable housing, start their own businesses, and better provide for their families. While the War on Poverty has not yet been won, the War is still worth waging on behalf of our Utah neighbors who seek security and the ability to support themselves and their families.

Over half of a century, thousands of dedicated employees and volunteers have worked to end poverty in their local communities. The nine Community Action Agencies in Utah will continue their incredible and worthwhile work to help Utahns who simply want to be able to help themselves and their families.

Barbara Muñoz, MPP, is policy analyst with Community Action Partnership of Utah.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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