Census Day is a Year Away!

We are officially one year away from the decennial census. By April 1, 2020 – National Census Day – the U.S. Census Bureau plans to send a letter or a door knocker to every U.S. household to conduct a constitutionally-mandated, nationwide headcount.

Each year, our regions continue to grow and increase in diversity. Because this opportunity comes around only once every 10 years, it is critical that regions do everything they can to ensure a fair and accurate count for all our communities. The decennial census determines:

  • How more than $600 billion in federal financial assistance is dispersed annually for state, regional, and local government programs and services.
  • How many representatives will represent each of our regions in the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Key decisions that regional leaders make regarding long-term planning initiatives.

The 2020 census is already facing significant challenges, including years of underfunding, the challenges of the first “high-tech” census count, and the potential inclusion of a citizenship question. So what can regional councils do to help make sure the hard-to-count communities – like people of color, low-income folks, LGBTQ people, immigrant communities, rural communities, and young children—are not missed?

Several regional councils are already ahead of the game, undertaking efforts in their communities to prepare local governments, private partners, nonprofit and community leaders, and the public for participation in the 2020 census. Some of our members’ regional initiatives are highlighted below:

Central Texas Council of Governments (CTCOG)

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Recognizing that they have been historically undercounted in the decennial census, they have continued with their critical efforts to validate mapping and local addresses with the U.S. Census Bureau for most of the entities in their region. To do this, CTCOG:

  1. Provided education to their member governments on the problems an undercount could cause.
  2. Offered to review member’s census materials for errors and omissions, using 911 address files the first cycle and adding digital map comparison in the second cycle.
  3. Convinced their board of directors that the initiative was in the best interest of the region and should be covered with in-house funds where possible. They also asked each entity to sign an Interlocal Agreement with a not-to-exceed amount for any cost beyond CTCOG’s ability to cover. 

Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG)

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AACOG served as their region’s local update of census addresses (LUCA) coordinator, informing their board of directors and membership governments of the opportunity to review and comment on the Census Bureau’s residential address list for jurisdictions prior to 2020 Census. AACOG was designated to conduct LUCA on behalf of four of their member counties, providing the service at no cost. The organization chose not to create their own Complete Count Committee (CCC) but is working closely with the U.S. Census Bureau in their outreach to their rural leaders, member governments, and their board of directors. AACOG is also the region’s coordinator for the Participant Statistical Area Program (PSAP). They are providing information on PSAP to their member governments and will assist counties and communities lacking capacity or resources with their participation.

Mid-America Regional Council (MARC)

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MARC is currently undergoing the process to form a regional CCC, which will bring together stakeholders to educate and motivate residents to participate in next year’s census. The organization continues to offer support to other local CCCs as well. MARC will spend the next few months developing a 2020 census communications and outreach plan and engage diverse community organizations in the effort. Later down the road, they will implement their communications plan on all fronts using social media, traditional media, and outreach from community partners. They will also identify locations for residents to obtain assistance with their census questions and look for ways that they can ease the region’s cybersecurity concerns through educational efforts. 

Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC)

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On the technical side, MORPC provided support to local governments in the region so they could participate in LUCA and the consolidated boundary and annexation survey (BAS). MORPC also serves as the lead agency for PSAP in the region; they are currently seeking input on potential tract and block group changes and will start undertaking related GIS analyses soon. The organization continues to build local awareness for the upcoming census by sharing the potential challenges and impacts with regional stakeholders, engaging with partners across sectors and communities. The City of Columbus and Franklin County have recently launched their own CCC with 29 subcommittees – MORPC will be chairing the local government subcommittee and staffing many others to get the work of this new CCC off the ground.

It is not too late to start getting involved in 2020 census activities! As you can see from the regional examples above, there are several ways that your organization and the stakeholders throughout your communities can help. We encourage you to take a look at our NARC census one-pager for ideas. You should also check out resources from organizations such as the National League of Cities, Census Counts, and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Maci Morin

About the Author

Maci Morin
I assist with NARC’s coverage of legislation and policy important to our regional members. I am also working to implement NARC’s new 501(c)(4), building our advocacy capabilities to represent regional issues at the federal level. My background includes policy and communications work for the City of San Antonio City Council and researching governmental use of data, social media, and innovative online tools at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

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