The Rapidian

Census advocates working to build trust and turnout

Census 2020 begins in earnest March 12-20 and much is at stake for Grand Rapids and the region as future funding is related to census turnout.

U.S. Census will be conducted in March and April. The Grand Rapids area is preparing Census Assistance Centers (CAC) to help residents.

Local census information site: https://www.grandrapidsmi.gov/Government/Programs-and-Initiatives/2020-Census

Bo Torres of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan

Bo Torres of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan

The 2020 Census, much-discussed and fought over, is already underway.

On January 21, the counting officially began with Census Bureau employees visiting the homes in the rural Alaskan village of Toksook Bay.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, most Americans can expect the arrival of census postcards in the mail between March 12-20. These cards will explain the process of responding to the census questions online, by phone or by mail.

The Census Bureau hopes many people will have responded by the official Census Day, April 1, but has multiple follow-up strategies in place, including in-person visits, if necessary.

Locally, the city of Grand Rapids and numerous organizations have teamed up to provide information and assistance for residents so that all can be counted.

“Getting as many people counted as possible is critical to the city and surrounding area,” noted Bo Torres, the executive director of the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan.

He’s particularly focused on the Latinx population in West Michigan.

“We read that the census affects our growing community,” he said. “According to a recent Mlive article, the Latinx population in the city of Wyoming alone has grown from 6,704 to 14,010 since 2000. In Kentwood, the Latinx population has more than doubled, from 1,757 to 4,120. From reapportioning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives to planning and redistricting, we see the need for a complete count. It is important that all are counted.”

Torres’ organization is one of the non-profits that is partnering with the city to assist residents with questions or concerns about the census.

The Hispanic Center is one of 50 sites in Grand Rapids currently listed on a Census Assistance Center (CAC) locations website housed by www.becountedgr.org. (This list is also found at the City of Grand Rapids website, www.grandrapidsmi.gov and type in “census” next to the search button.)

Torres is concerned that the controversy over the citizenship question (which is not on the final survey being mailed to all Americans), along with the recent green card ruling by the Supreme Court, will have an intimidating effect on those who distrust the government’s intent for gathering information.

“The tone and content of the national conversation on the census has made it more difficult to build trust and confidence in the system,” he said.

Census advocates note, however, that an undercount of people in the region can seriously harm government funding for critical programs such as Medicaid, nutrition assistance, highway construction, early education and economic development.

“It is estimated that each non-counted Michigan resident can cost the state up to $1,800 per individual over a ten-year period,” said Kathi Harris, the Census Coordinator for the city of Grand Rapids.

Both Harris and Torres believe that the best formula for a successful census count in the region includes building awareness, sharing good information about the process and a willingness to support those who may be wary of sharing their information.

“I encourage all in the area to fill out the census and to walk alongside others who you know may be unsure of the form or the process,” said Torres. “The number one issue with the census is trust, so be that trusted person who can overcome any fears or confusion someone might have.”

The Hispanic Center for Western Michigan is planning proactively by providing computers for community members to fill out the census form.

“We will not be able to help with the actual entry of information, but we can answer questions that people may have regarding the information on the form,” said Torres. “We encourage anyone in the community to stop by the Hispanic Center with their questions.”

That promise of assistance is also true of all the CAC sites listed at the city of Grand Rapids census site.

A comprehensive web page to answer census questions can be found at the federal government’s site at www.2020census.gov.

 

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