A coalition of community groups and associations representing local governments and advocacy organizations are partnering to spread awareness about the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census and to encourage Oklahomans to participate. The census exists to take an accurate count of the population within the United States. Based on this survey, the federal government distributes over $675 billion to states and communities.
Census data is used to determine how many U.S. representatives each state is allotted. It is also used by communities to plan for a variety of resident needs, including new roads, schools and emergency services. Businesses also use the data when making decisions on where to locate.
The census relies on resident responses, which are compiled via phone, digital email surveys, and in-person visits, culminating in “Census Day” on April 1, 2020.
Community groups and local government associations are working now to raise awareness about the importance of participation. Their coalition, Count Me IN Oklahoma, is working to raise awareness and recruit other likeminded organizations to answer the call to provide information about the U.S. Census to the Oklahomans they serve. Participating groups currently include the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA), Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma (ACCO), the Oklahoma Municipal League (OML), the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits and the Oklahoma Policy Institute.
Joe Dorman, chief executive officer for the OICA, said his organization is particularly worried about getting an accurate headcount of children and young, college-aged adults. Census data influences the distribution of billions of dollars nationwide, including almost $16 billion for Title I grants that help local educational agencies serve more than 24 million students in low-income families and communities. It also helps direct more than $12 billion for special education grants, along with funds for the national school lunch program, Head Start, and grants for improving teacher quality.
“The government cannot provide assistance for children it doesn’t know exist, so it’s very important we get accurate figures for the youth population,” Dorman said. “Many young Oklahomans live in areas which are hard to count, such as homes outside of towns and apartment buildings, so it is important to respond when receiving census requests by mail or when they knock on your door.”
“College-aged adults are also an easy population to undercount, because they assume their parents are reporting for them at their homes,” added Dorman. “It’s important these students and their parents understand that they need to be counted exactly where they live on April 1, 2020, so college communities receive an accurate population count.”
ACCO Director Gene Wallace said his organization is working to inform county elected officials and their constituents of the importance of the census to county governments.
“A lot of county funding is impacted by population counts,” said Wallace. “If you care about the quality of your local roads and bridges, it’s your civic duty to participate in the census when their employees reach out to you.”
Information collected in the census influences the way public officials distribute federal funds every year for services like schools, fire departments, hospitals and community health centers.
Mike Fina, executive director of the OML, emphasized the importance of participation.
“Our cities and municipal governments receive state and federal dollars for a variety of programs that improve our quality of life, our health and the safety of our citizens,” said Fina. “We need every Oklahoman who receives a census survey to respond so we are not underrepresented in our communities.”
In 2016, Community Health Centers (CHC) served more than 25 million patients in urban and rural locations. CHC are often the only source of care available to low-income patients and are playing an increasingly important role in providing treatment for people caught up in the opioid epidemic.
“Census participation is important for a variety of needs, such as the ability to recruit new businesses so families can have the best possible jobs available,” said Dorman. “Company executives use census data to identify communities where they might build a factory or office building, or open new stores. Census numbers also guide the distribution of billions of dollars in community development block grants.”
The 2020 Census is also a source of temporary jobs. Those looking for employment with the Census Bureau can find more information online.
To join Count Me In Oklahoma, reach out to Dorman at [email protected] or contact him through the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy at (405) 236.5437. Use the hashtag #CountMeInOK when promoting the effort on social media.