While many Spokane events encouraging people to fill out the census have been put on hold or canceled, local leaders are hoping to use social media, food distribution and phone calls to get the word out about the 2020 census.
Spokane County’s response rate for the census was more than 36% by Friday afternoon, almost 3% higher than the state response and about 6% higher than the national average. Alex Panagotacos, coordinator for the Spokane County Complete Count Committee, said there is still a lot of work to do to encourage hard-to-reach populations to respond and remind the general public that even during a difficult time, completing the census matters.
“We want to make sure that no matter what is thrown our way,” she said, “whether it’s a pandemic or rumors that are false about the census that people know how important it is and that they have what they need to participate because we all have a right and a duty to participate.”
The census not only determines how many congressional districts are drawn, but how much federal funding is available for emergency response, public safety, transportation and school lunch programs.
The U.S. Census Bureau also has given the public two additional weeks to respond. Census day is April 1, but people can respond anytime between now and August 14. This year is also the first time the census will be online, though people can still respond over the phone or fill out a paper form.
The Census Bureau is also changing the way it does follow up counting, especially in rural areas, by focusing on phone and online methods, encouraging administrators of nursing homes and prisons to find ways to count people that don’t require in-person contact, and when they have to visit homes for interviews, doing so 6 feet away from residents.
Panagotacos said even though the census is online, making it easier for some, there is still a lot of work to do to make sure people have the awareness or tools they need to participate.
Members of the Spokane County Complete Count Committee had planned to canvas neighborhoods and hold events to help connect people with translation services, the internet or offer assistance. Those events have been canceled or modified after the ban on gatherings and isolation orders to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The Spokane County Complete Count Committee receives funding through the Innovia Foundation, which also donates some funds for positions at The Spokesman-Review.
Panagotacos said the committee still can help connect participants with translators, which may be needed because the online version of the census is only available in 12 languages. They’ve also found creative ways to get information out, such as asking businesses that have reader boards to display information about the census, buying billboards, using social media, and asking people in historically under-counted communities, such as Native Americans, to call and talk to people they’re close to about the census.
The committee also has been working with schools and food banks to try to distribute census information in food baskets going out to the community to reach some that they might not normally talk to through canvasing, or other methods.
For those looking for information about the census, or for help with a language or other local information, they can visit the Spokane County Complete Count Committee’s website, which has resources for dozens of languages at spokanecensus.org. They can fill out the census by going to my2020census.gov.
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