Every ten years, through the decennial census survey, the United States has one chance to count the entire country’s total population. The federal government uses survey responses to compile comprehensive demographic data. This data is then used to allocate $800 billion worth of federal funding to states for housing, health, and education, apportion congressional districts among the 50 states, and draw state and local district lines that are critical to voting power. Everyone needs to be counted, particularly hard-to-count populations, to ensure the diverse needs of all communities are met. In New York State, an accurate census count is essential to maintaining its current 27 congressional districts, equitable federal funding, and fair representation within the state.
What is a complete count committee? One way to ensure a complete and accurate count is to form a Complete Count Committee (CCC). A CCC can be established by the highest elected official of a local, county, and state government or by community leaders and organizations who are knowledgeable and trusted members of the community. The ideal CCC would include elected officials, community-based organizations (serving race, faith-based, tenant, immigrant, elderly, children, homeless and disabled constituents), foundations, philanthropic organizations, and institutions like hospitals, schools, and libraries. CCCs can establish subcommittees based on its membership’s’ various skills and expertise such as recruitment, government outreach, education/training, business, technology, and media.
CCCs are able to do informed and targeted local outreach to hard-to-count communities. These historically disenfranchised groups have included: people of color, children under the age of five, immigrants, multifamily/crowded households, people of limited English proficiency, the disabled, low-income people, rural communities, the homeless, etc.
The federal government is not providing funding for community-based census work. We need the state and local governments, and private and philanthropic organizations, to help fund the efforts of community-based groups and libraries to educate and assist people, especially since the 2020 Census will be the first time people can complete the census online. That’s why it’s important to have elected leaders on your CCC who can help advocate for community-based census funding.
CCCs utilize data tools to identify areas with low response rates and understand the obstacles that historically obstruct complete counts. Resources include Response Outreach Area Mapper (ROAM), Census Planning Database (PDB), heat maps (www.censushardtocountmaps2020.us) and U.S. Census regional data staff. With this knowledge, a CCC can strategically engage its community through targeted outreach, programs, and events.
A CCC should start now to use whatever methods of outreach they believe will be most effective. These efforts may be meetings with local leaders; workshops with community members to help them understand and prioritize the 2020 census – why it’s conducted, what’s at stake, how they can get involved; social media outreach; youth engagement programs; and training volunteers to canvass hard-to-count neighborhoods. As 2020 nears, CCCs outreach should increase, i.e. an inaugural Census Day (April 1st) event. By April 2020, the focus is encouraging people to fill out the census form online, by mail, or phone.
New York Counts 2020 can advise and support CCC’s efforts by providing train-the-trainer workshops on the importance of the Census, data/technology issues, and canvassing tips and provide tailored training materials. Please contact New York Counts 2020 for more information, www.newyorkcounts2020.org.