Montgomery County Readies for 2020 Census

Montgomery County Readies for 2020 Census

State providing $581,000 for efforts to promote local participation

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Montgomery County officials are taking measures this summer to ensure that residents participate in the 2020 census.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the census is taken every 10 years, with the goal of determining the country’s population and where everyone lives. The data are used to apportion congressional seats in the House of Representatives and to determine grant funding levels for state and local governments and other federal programs such as free and reduced-price meal programs, Medicaid and pre-kindergarten funding.

Residents can participate in the 2020 census either online, by phone or by mail. The U.S. Census Bureau collects data by tasking each state with setting up a “complete count committee,” volunteers who raise awareness of the census and encourage residents to participate.

State Del. Jheanelle Wilkins, a Democrat who represents Silver Spring and Takoma Park, is a member of the Maryland Complete Count Committee, which was created through an executive order Gov. Larry Hogan signed in February.

Wilkins said the committee has met five times across the state since April and is developing an outreach plan for how to raise awareness of the census.

For the first time, residents can fill out the census online. They also may answer questions by mail or by phone.

Wilkins said she has concerns about online participation, the primary form of response being promoted, because it could pose challenges for some difficult-to-reach communities such as senior citizens, low-income residents, people of color and the homeless.

“It makes things more accessible for some, but it can make things more challenging for some,” she said.

Wilkins added that the committee includes a member of the immigrant advocacy group CASA de Maryland to help ensure that immigrants participate. The committee worries that fear stoked by President Donald Trump’s threats of deporting immigrants living in the country illegally could suppress participation, she said.

“Because of what happened at the federal level, there is a lot of fear there, and we want to make sure our immigrants are included and respond,” she said.

Immigrants’ participation in the census has no effect on their legal status in the country, despite  fears some immigrants have expressed that participation could lead to deportation.

Individual jurisdictions within Maryland, including Montgomery County, have their own Complete Count Committees.

Diane Vu, the county’s Office of Community Partnerships director, said Friday that the county received $581,000 out of $5 million that the Maryland Department of Planning awarded to local jurisdictions. The money is directed to nonprofit organizations that will launch a marketing campaign to get the word out about the census through public service ad campaigns.

Vu said the county is trying to raise additional funds to complement the state money it received.

“If residents want to make donations [or] if businesses or other foundations want to donate to the fund, they can,” she said.

Vu said the most difficult populations to count are children younger than 5, those with limited English proficiency, foreign-born residents and the homeless.

“We know that we have a very challenging road ahead of this to make sure our communities are counted in an accurate way,” she said.

Vu said the committee’s efforts to get the word out will increase in January, two months before the website for census data collection launches. People should expect postcards in the mail then, she said.

“You’re gonna see [word about] the census plastered all over the place,” she said.

The census will be available in 12 languages, Vu said.

She said the goal is to get as many people to respond as possible by April. After that, census workers will visit people who haven’t completed their census questionnaire.

Data collection will be wrapped up by the summer of 2020, with the Census Bureau submitting its final report to Congress in December of that year.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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