It seems to be the time of counting. Counting the days until a self-quarantine is up; counting the number of new cases of coronavirus in each state or region, counting cans of food, number of pills; it’s a steady and relentless march of numbers.
And yet, a different kind of counting is going on, behind the scenes, an invitation arriving in our mail, promoted by social media, billboards, and fliers. It is the Census count, and in this time of urgent and often dreadful counting, the Census might seem insignificant or even a quaint reminder of more normal times.
The Census is actually a critical look to the future, data that forms an arc for decision making for the next 10 years. It is a point-in-time count of all of us living in America, a tally which supplies all levels of government and businesses with basic and aggregated demographic data. The 2020 Census dictates how voters get assembled into districts, how Americans get counted for distribution of federal and state funds, and how – when compared to the 2010 Census – a city has grown and might attract new businesses to that area.
The Census involves 10 questions for everyone living in the United States. Everyone includes citizens, noncitizens, babies, relatives and friends sharing quarters, those who have mailing addresses and those who do not. These questions cover names, addresses, whether head of household rents or owns a home (or not), race, ethnicity, genderand a listing of those living at the same residence.
This kind of counting is a huge task, and with coronavirus precautions prohibiting community events and assembly at many Census assistance centers, and with the U.S Office of Census withdrawing field operators until April 1, notifying people about the importance of this counting seems an impossible task.
This is why Alex Panagotacos, coordinator of Spokane County Complete Count, www.spokanecensus.org has moved on to Plans B, C and D. Her Census partners across Spokane County come from nonprofit and business organizations using new and different channels to signal the importance of this count. The League of Women Voters of the Spokane Area is one partner; Alex has many more. Here is some of the work that is going on behind the scenes:
Flyers on the importance of the census are being given to families relying on food distribution. It is fitting that food distribution by public schools to students, now schooling from home, should contain information on the census. A complete count of Spokane residents ensures that schools will receive funds in the future for all children eligible for free and reduced breakfasts and lunches.
Businesses with reader boards are being asked to remind drivers about the April 1 census date. Some LWVSA members have been driving through parts of Spokane recording the locations of reader boards for businesses. Follow-up calls are being made to these businesses. Here is the connection of businesses to the Census: Through accurate census information, businesses decide locations to attract the most customers.
Trusted messengers are reaching out through social media and phone calls to those in their community about the importance of the census. When certain populations do not get counted, they do not “exist” when federal and state support is needed. Andy Joseph, Jr. shares a story on YouTube about the impact a Census undercount had on the Colville Confederated Tribes when they experienced an outbreak of the flu. A complete count is essential for public health response to pandemics like the one being experienced now.
When the League of Women Voters members have a thorough understanding of any issue, they then move to a “Call to Action.” For the Census, this call to action is 1) open the official letter coming from the U.S. Census Bureau, 2) complete the 10 Census questions online (https://my2020census.gov), 3) tell five people to do the same, and 4) contact Panagotacos at firstname.lastname@example.org about how to inform others about the importance of this count.
The Census letters are coming; the deadline for the Census is coming; and everyone can be part of a count which determines voting districts, distribution of federal and state funds and business decisions for the next 10 years.
Beth Pellicciotti is the president of the League of Women Voters of the Spokane Area.
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