Nearly half of cen­sus out­reach cash spent on ads, mar­ket­ing, site shows

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY MANNY RAMOS, STAFF RE­PORTER mramos@sun­times.com | @_ManuelRamo­s_ Manny Ramos is a corps mem­ber in Re­port for Amer­ica, a not-for-profit jour­nal­ism pro­gram that aims to bol­ster Sun-Times cov­er­age of Chicago’s South and West sides.

A new Cook County web­site shows that nearly half of the $670,000 in cen­sus out­reach money spent so far this year has gone toward ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als.

The uptick in spend­ing in those cat­e­gories jumped since the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­sus by the Num­bers web­site un­veiled Wed­nes­day, de­signed to main­tain trans­parency on how the nearly $2 mil­lion al­lo­cated for the county’s 2020 cen­sus ef­forts is spent.

Of the money spent so far, $314,376 went toward ad­ver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als.

In the first two months of the year, $45,147 was spent on event plan­ning, and $15,663 was spent on ad­ver­tis­ing. But by March — when the state’s ini­tial stay-at-home or­der was is­sued — event spend­ing de­clined and ad­ver­tis­ing in­creased.

Event spend­ing dropped to $11,408 in March, then fell to $9,632 in April, and by May, it was $7,212. Only $3,074 — a 92% drop since Fe­bru­ary — was used for events in June.

Dur­ing those same four months, $75,939 was spent just on ad­ver­tis­ing. Over the first six months of the year, $222,773 was spent on mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als.

Al­most 100 sub­ur­ban gov­ern­ment, com­mu­nity groups, churches and cul­tural cen­ters re­ceived por­tions of the $2 mil­lion to tar­get spe­cific ar­eas deemed “hard-to­count” pop­u­la­tions for the cen­sus.

“We want to be sure ev­ery­one com­pletes their cen­sus form and we get an ac­cu­rate count in all of our com­mu­ni­ties,” Cook County Board Pres­i­dent Toni Preck­win­kle said. “While our dig­i­tal ef­forts are en­hanced, we rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of main­tain­ing com­mu­nity-level vis­i­bil­ity.”

Ad­ver­tis­ing spend­ing for lawn signs, news­pa­per in­serts and hand­ing out fly­ers at food pantries and per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment dis­tri­bu­tion sites con­tinue to keep that vis­i­bil­ity high, Preck­win­kle said.

But Preck­win­kle also ac­knowl­edged the county’s cen­sus re­sponse rate is not where it needs to be.

The county’s 61.4% rate as of June 30 was still un­der the over­all 2010 re­sponse rate of 66.1%, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau.

Cook County Com­mis­sioner Alma Anaya’s district, which rep­re­sents one of the largest com­mu­ni­ties with Lati­nos, im­mi­grants and COVID-19 cases, has strug­gled to re­spond to the cen­sus.

“This means that our fam­i­lies, our com­mu­nity, is not think­ing about a ques­tion­naire,” Anaya said. “They are think­ing about essen­tial things like food, hous­ing, and health care at this mo­ment.”

Anaya, who is the vice chair of the Cook County Com­plete Count Cen­sus Com­mis­sion, stressed that res­i­dents should try to take five min­utes to fill out the cen­sus forms since it helps de­cide how com­mu­ni­ties are fed­er­ally funded for the next decade.

“We are see­ing now in a time of pan­demic the im­por­tance of health care, the im­por­tance of our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem to have all the re­sources for our com­mu­nity,” Anaya said. “That is why we want to make sure ev­ery­one is counted.”

The last day to fill out the cen­sus has been pushed to Oct. 31 be­cause of the pan­demic. Cen­sus tak­ers will start knock­ing on doors of those who have not re­sponded on Aug. 11. Res­i­dents can fill out the cen­sus at my2020

cen­sus.gov, call 844-330-2020 or by mail.

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