Shannon Halikias, library director for the Sugar Grove Public Library District and a faculty member for Joliet Junior College, believes there is a valid “fear factor” as she works at getting to people to understand the importance of completing the 2020 U.S. Census.
But she’s also cognizant of how participation could impact local units of government and the services they offer.
“Oftentimes, libraries heavily depend upon numbers that we receive both for our per capita grants, as well as determining eligibility for grants,” she said. “An excellent count is really high priority for us. Libraries are also a place where people that are underserved come into for help, resources and assistance.”
Halikias brought that message to a gathering last week at Joliet Junior College, where Census 2020 officials set out to inform the public and recruit prospective workers.
“People were very receptive and trying to learn more about the Census,“ said Verenise Alvarez, Get Out the Count Campaign Coordinator for the Spanish Community Center. “To my surprise, most of the Hispanic community doesn’t know about the Census or they’ve heard of it, but they’re not sure why it’s important or if they even should fill it out because there’s still that little bit of fear that because it comes from the government, they’re not going to want to share that information. So, it’s really important that we talk to them and say, ‘It’s confidential. This information is only for Census purposes.’”
The Census aims to provide officials at all levels with a snapshot of what communities look like and how many people live there.
Alvarez wanted to be clear that the citizenship question is not going to be asked of those looking to complete the Census.
Funding and legislative representation both locally and statewide could be affected if people do not complete the 2020 Census, officials said.
Certain groups face barriers to being counted, which officials said makes them hard to count. Those include the homeless, college students, children under age 5 and senior citizens.
There are a number of programs and services that rely on Census information, such as food stamps, school lunches and healthcare services.
Alvarez said making sure people know everyone’s participation matters is important.
“We want to make sure we empower our community and that we get the word out because we need to empower the under-counted,” she said.
The Census was done by U.S. postal mail, as well as in person in the past. Currently, people have the option to complete it online.
“I know some people worry about double-counting and all of that, but there are algorithms that will sort all that out,” said Joe Natale, chief deputy director for Illinois State Library.
Several panelists made mention of the importance of partnerships to Census officials.
Among those at the meeting were representatives from the city of Joliet, Will County Board and Spanish Community Center, all of which are working to get out the count.
Vinita Voss, of the Chicago office of the U.S. Census Bureau, said the federal agency is teaming up with a variety of other organizations to help spread the word.
“I guess you could say in this venture it’s unique the type of partnerships that we’re forming, but we’re forming them at every single level,” she said.
Institutions such as libraries also are working to remove barriers by providing public access to terminals where the Census can be completed.
Currently, Census field staff is in the process working to update addresses to ensure accurate information is available.
Canvassing will begin in early March of 2020. More information is at 2020census.gov.