Of­fi­cials stress com­mu­nity cen­sus par­tic­i­pa­tion

Lo­cal fund­ing and rep­re­sen­ta­tion af­fected by pop­u­la­tion

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Me­gann Horstead

Shan­non Ha­likias, li­brary di­rec­tor for the Su­garGrove Pub­lic Li­brary District and a fac­ulty mem­ber at Joliet Ju­nior Col­lege, be­lieves there is a valid “fear fac­tor” as she works at get­ting peo­ple to un­der­stand the im­por­tance of com­plet­ing the 2020 U.S. Cen­sus.

But she’s also cog­nizant of how par­tic­i­pa­tion could im­pact lo­cal units of gov­ern­ment and the ser­vices they of­fer.

“Of­ten­times, li­braries heav­ily de­pend upon num­bers that we re­ceive both for our per capita grants, as well as de­ter­min­ing el­i­gi­bil­ity for grants,” she said. “An ex­cel­lent count is re­ally high pri­or­ity for us. Li­braries are also a place where peo­ple that are un­der­served come into for help, re­sources and as­sis­tance.”

Ha­likias brought that mes­sage to a gath­er­ing last week at Joliet Ju­nior Col­lege, where Cen­sus 2020 of­fi­cials set out to in­form the pub­lic and re­cruit prospec­tive work­ers.

“Peo­ple were very re­cep­tive and try­ing to learn more about the Cen­sus,“said Verenise Al­varez, Get Out the Count Cam­paign Co­or­di­na­tor for the Span­ish Com­mu­nity Cen­ter.

“To my sur­prise, most of the His­panic com­mu­nity doesn’t know about the Cen­sus or they’ve heard of it, but they’re not sure why it’s im­por­tant or if they even should fill it out be­cause there’s still that lit­tle bit of fear that be­cause it comes from the gov­ern­ment, they’re not go­ing to want to share that in­for­ma­tion. So, it’s re­ally im­por­tant thatwe talk to them and say, ‘It’s con­fi­den­tial. This in­for­ma­tion is only for Cen­sus pur­poses.’”

The Cen­sus aims to pro­vide of­fi­cials at all lev­els with a snapshot of what com­mu­ni­ties look like and how many peo­ple live there.

Al­varez wanted to be clear that a cit­i­zen­ship ques­tion is not part of the Cen­sus.

Fund­ing and leg­isla­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion both lo­cally and statewide could be af­fected if peo­ple do not com­plete the 2020 Cen­sus, of­fi­cials said.

Cer­tain groups face bar­ri­ers to be­ing counted, which of­fi­cials said makes them hard to count. Those in­clude the home­less, col­lege stu­dents, chil­dren un­der age 5 and se­nior cit­i­zens.

There are a num­ber of pro­grams and ser­vices that rely on

Cen­sus in­for­ma­tion, such as food stamps, school lunches and health­care ser­vices.

Al­varez said mak­ing sure peo­ple know ev­ery­one’s par­tic­i­pa­tion mat­ters is im­por­tant.

“We want to make sure we em­power our com­mu­nity and that we get the word out be­cause we need to em­power the un­der­counted,” she said.

The Cen­sus was done by U.S. postal mail aswell as in per­son in the past. Cur­rently, peo­ple have the op­tion to com­plete it on­line.

“I know some peo­ple worry about dou­ble-count­ing and all of that, but there are al­go­rithms that will sort all that out,” said Joe Natale, chief deputy di­rec­tor for the Illi­nois State Li­brary.

Among those at the meet­ing were rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the city of Joliet, Will County Board and Span­ish Com­mu­nity Cen­ter, all of which are work­ing to get out the count.

Vinita Voss, of the Chicago of­fice of the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau, said the fed­eral agency is team­ing up with a va­ri­ety of other or­ga­ni­za­tions to help spread the word.

“I guess you could say in this ven­ture it’s unique the type of part­ner­ships that we’re form­ing, but we’re form­ing them at ev­ery sin­gle level,” she said.

In­sti­tu­tions such as li­braries also are work­ing to re­move bar­ri­ers by pro­vid­ing pub­lic ac­cess to ter­mi­nals where the Cen­sus can be com­pleted.

Cur­rently, Cen­sus field staff is in the pro­cess­work­ing to up­date ad­dresses to en­sure ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion is avail­able.

Can­vass­ing will be­gin in early March of 2020. More in­for­ma­tion is at 2020cen­sus.gov.

ME­GANN HORSTEAD/DAILY SOUTHTOWN

Pan­elists dis­cuss the 2020 Cen­sus and how to en­sure ev­ery­body is counted dur­ing a meet­ing last week at Joliet Ju­nior Col­lege.

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