We can’t plan for what we can’t see. #GetCounted in the #2020Census
It’s hard to overstate the importance of the U.S. Census in supporting the democratic goals of this country. The decennial census count is the basis for ensuring that all individuals are fairly represented in Congress, and also that the benefits of our democratic institutions—most notably federal funding that helps families achieve and sustain economic self-sufficiency—are distributed equitably among the communities and families in need. We knew that COVID-19 would create new challenges for the collection of accurate census data, but we weren’t expecting that the bigger threat would be one of human design: the Trump administration's recent decision to stop the 2020 census count at the end of September—a full month earlier than the Census Bureau’s adjusted deadline of October 31, established in response to the pandemic.
The decision to stop collecting census responses early is not only ill-conceived, it is actually a departure from the Census Bureau’s prior insistence that an extension is necessary due to delays brought on by the pandemic. Recent estimates indicate that we have yet to count nearly four in ten households, and that hard-to-count populations and communities make up most of those remaining to be counted. Shortening the window increases the likelihood that traditionally undercounted groups—rural communities, minorities, immigrants, children under five, and people experiencing homelessness—will remain unaccounted for in this decennial census, and shortchange investments into their communities.
Census data determines eligibility and the allocation levels for 316 programs totaling over $1.5 trillion in funding. Complete and accurate counts are critical to ensuring that states, local governments, nonprofits, small businesses, and households across the nation receive their fair share of federal assistance. This data impacts the infrastructure, health, education, and housing opportunities available to residents in their neighborhoods. On a daily basis, residents derive direct and indirect benefits from programs that rely on a fair count for the geographic distribution of resources. These include, among others, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid, Community Development Block Grants, Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Grants, HOME Investment Partnerships Program, and Low Income Housing Tax Credits.
At LISC, as at many community development financial organizations, we leverage these public dollars to deploy the capital, programs, and resources needed to create communities of opportunity for all. In many cases, these funds make it possible for public-private partnerships to fuel comprehensive community development. An inaccurate count would exacerbate existing inequities, hindering the vital work of community-based organizations, state and local governments, and others striving to expand access to resources and create healthy, thriving and sustainable communities across the country.
Undertaking an accurate and complete census count is a tremendous task in any year. The complications of doing so during a pandemic on a shortened timeline demand an all-hands-on-deck approach to ensure we include the most vulnerable and hard-to-count. If not, it is all but certain that the same groups who have been disproportionately impacted by the health crisis will remain undercounted, underrepresented, and underfunded.
Fortunately, there is a path forward. We need to view the Trump administration’s unprecedented efforts to suppress an accurate count as a call to action for every individual to use the tools at their disposal to not only submit their family’s census data, but also to inform and educate their neighbors about their options for submitting data. New alternatives to mail-in responses, in the form of mobile-friendly internet, increased language accessibility, and a telephone hotline, could enhance participation. But it will only work if residents are made aware of their options. A recent survey found that while 60 percent of respondents prefer to submit their information online, only about one in five was aware that this is an option.
We have our work cut out for us, but there is still time. So let’s get started. If you haven’t already reported your family’s census information, you can do so by self-reporting online, or over the phone at 1-844-330-2020.
But don’t stop there. To ensure that you and your communities are counted, please join us by increasing awareness of the ongoing census count, the available self-reporting options identified above, and the new deadline of September 30, 2020.
In this time of unprecedented challenges, we must all do our best to help support our democratic institutions by ensuring that everyone is counted, and that no community is left behind.
Additional resources on ensuring an accurate census count are provided below:
- Respond to the 2020 Census Questionnaire Online
- Overview of the Ways to Respond
- Community Outreach Toolkit by the Census Bureau
- Phone Numbers to Complete the 2020 Census by Language
- Census Counts: What’s at Stake
- Hard to Count Maps
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matt Josephs, Senior Vice President for Policy
Matt manages the team that is responsible for developing LISC’s federal policy agenda; communicating this agenda to LISC employees, board members, funders and other stakeholders; and pursuing this agenda through engagement with members of Congress and other federal officials.