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2020 census enters home stretch with Grand Rapids' turnout goal still to be reached

Some neighborhoods in the city have lower response rates than others. Much of the southwest side and neighborhoods along US 131 have rates closer to 50 percent.
Eastown neighborhood in Grand Rapids.

Eastown neighborhood in Grand Rapids. /Brandon Cirillo

Looking for more 2020 census info?

More info about Grand Rapids' 2020 census effort can be found at, and the U.S. effort as a whole at

Census ad used around Kent County during final six-week push, in Spanish.

Census ad used around Kent County during final six-week push, in Spanish. /Complete Count Committee

Same census ad used around Kent County in English.

Same census ad used around Kent County in English. /Complete Count Committee

Just under six weeks remain to get counted in the 2020 census, after the U.S. Census Bureau shortened the deadline this month to September 30.

That’s a month earlier than planned, as the deadline was originally October 31.

Census officials in Grand Rapids are well aware.

"The shortening of the census count by a month adds to the challenge we have already been dealing with due to COVID," said Lou Canfield, the City of Grand Rapids’ Development Center Manager.

Canfield works with other city officials and community organizations to get all Grand Rapidians counted in the census. It's a high priority, with every person counted resulting in $18,000 each over the next decade in federal funds for local resources like schools, hospitals, and roads.

"As of right now, there are over 60,000 Grand Rapidians who have not been counted, and that translates into over $1 billion in population-based federal funding that our community could lose out on over the next decade," he said.

Getting Grand Rapids counted

The city's goal is to reach an 85 percent response rate when the count wraps up. Currently, Grand Rapids' response rate stands close to 70 percent, which is in line with the state's and higher than the national rate of 65 percent. Not bad, when compared nationally – but there is still a ways to go before the city reaches its target.

Some neighborhoods in the city have lower response rates than others. Much of the southwest side and neighborhoods along US 131 have rates closer to 50 percent.

"We are intensifying our efforts in traditionally undercounted areas and working closely with our community partners to make sure everyone is counted," Canfield said. "The prospect of losing out on so much funding that our community needs for schools and hospitals is concerning, which is why we want to continue reminding all Grand Rapidians to please fill out your census form."

Ramping up outreach

To accelerate turnout before the September deadline, the city, Kent County, and their community partners are embarking on a broader range of outreach strategies than were employed March through July.

For most of the spring and summer, the city's Census Hubs – comprised mostly of neighborhood associations – were conducting census outreach online-only. Now, with COVID-19's case growth stabilizing in Kent County and physical distancing measures like face covering use the legal norm, some of these hubs are able to implement limited in-person assistance.

Neighbors of Belknap Lookout (NOBL), one the hubs, has been able to offer in-person open hours at its northeast space, to help those who may have difficulties completing the census on their own. Residents with disabilities or language barriers are among those sometimes needing assistance.

"We’re continuing open hours through September 17," said NOBL's Executive Director, Elianna Bootzin.

Bootzin's excited about additional strategies its organization’s employing over the next six weeks, to get neighbors aware and counted.

"The biggest thing I’m excited about is the prominent Spanish-language billboard right smack dab in the middle of the neighborhood," she said. "I hope it will inspire more of our neighbors to complete their census."

Spanish-language signage aims to spread awareness about the census' importance to more of Grand Rapids' Latinx community. Many from this community have been apprehensive about sharing their information through the census, according to the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, in light of earlier Trump administration attempts to include a citizenship status question. The addition of the question never materialized.

Census takers getting to work

In addition to city and community partner efforts to ramp up turnout before September 30, there's another effort in the local arsenal recently hitting the streets: census takers.

Employed by the Census Bureau, census takers began door-to-door visits last week to Grand Rapidians who've yet to respond to the census. Their mission is to help residents and anyone in their homes get counted, with census takers who speak foreign languages available by request.

Census takers were originally to begin their work in May, until the bureau postponed operations due to COVID-19. Now in action, they're wearing face coverings and following local public health guidelines when visiting homes, the bureau assures. Census takers are also required to complete a virtual COVID-19 training on physical distancing and other health and safety protocols before beginning work.

Grasping the count’s value

As census takers and officials alike know, getting counted in the census benefits local communities beyond just federal funds for neighborhood resources. According to the Census Bureau, an accurate census count also determines the number of seats in Congress for each state, and redraws state and congressional legislative districts.

In an election year when Americans are reminded by government leaders how important voting is to building a government that represents them, they can also benefit from understanding the full value of this corresponding civic tool – being counted in the census.

The census can be completed any time until September 30 online, by mail, or by phone.

"It's only nine questions per person and takes ten minutes," Canfield said. "It's that simple."

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