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21 Feb 2020

Making Us Count

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February 21, 2020 Category: Local Posted by:

For cities like Philadelphia, getting the 2020 Census count right is a top priority.

By Denise Clay
We’re nearing the time when Congress will consider the 2021 fiscal year federal budget.

Everyone in Congress will be coming into the process armed with a list of funding priorities for their districts based on information they get from a variety of sources. Some of this information comes from the constituents themselves.

But a nice chunk of it comes from the Census.

Starting in March, Americans will start receiving their questionnaires for the nation’s 24th Census Under Article 1, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, the Federal government, through the Federal Department Of Commerce, is required to count all of the nation’s citizens every 10 years, and has done so since 1790, when America was a bouncing, baby republic.

Among the things that the Census determines is the number of representatives at state has in the House of Representatives, and how federal resources are allocated, which is why it’s important for everyone to participate.

“Statistics from the census are used in distributing where hundreds of billions in funding for school lunches, hospitals, roads and much more,” said Steven Dillingham, director of the Census Bureau. “Your response will impact communities for the next decade.”

Because of this, the City of Philadelphia is making an effort to get the count as close to complete as humanly possible, said Jennifer Braxton, media partnership specialist for the Philadelphia Regional Census Center. Braxton sat down with the SUN to talk about the Census, dispel some of the myths about where the information collected goes, and how you can help…and get paid for it.
SUN: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Jennifer. What is the most important thing that people need to know about the Census?
JB: The most important thing to know about the 2020 Census is that it is safe, easy and important! Census data is used to appropriate the correct number of seats Pennsylvania will receive in the House of Representatives. It is also used to determine the amount of funding necessary for social services like SNAP benefits and medical assistance, the free and reduced price school breakfast and lunch program, public libraries, hospital and emergency services, transportation and roads and subsidized housing programs.
SUN: What do you think is the biggest challenge that the Census bureau is going to have in terms of getting an accurate count in Philadelphia this time around? How do you see the Bureau meeting this challenge?
JB: The most basic challenge is reaching undercounted populations. In order to get a complete and accurate count, we are bringing awareness directly to the community to make sure everyone understands the reasons why taking a count every 10 years is so important.
In addition, everyone will be able to respond to the Census questionnaire online. This is the first Census where online responses will be collected. Anyone can either complete a paper questionnaire or respond by telephone – whichever is easiest for the household. The Census is available to complete in 13 languages including English.
SUN: Are you working with community groups on the Census? If so, what part are they playing or can they play?
JB: The 2020 Census is working with Complete Count Committees across the country. In Philadelphia, the CCC is Philly Counts. They are working with concerned citizens and leaders by training them to be Census Champions, or ambassadors, and are hosting meetings in every neighborhood to bring information and awareness through trusted voices like Block Captains and clergy.
SUN: One of the challenges that Census enumerators will probably face is the perception that their information will end up in the hands of some government agency. The one that folks are probably the most afraid of is the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. Is that a justified fear? What can you tell people that can allay that fear? Does Philadelphia’s status as a Sanctuary City help or hurt with that?
JB: We understand that people may not want to give their personal information to the government. However, the information we collect is kept confidential for 72 years, meaning the information they provide this year will not be available to anyone until 2092. In addition, any information given cannot be used against an individual or family and is protected by Title XIII*. Every Census employee takes a lifetime oath not to reveal any personally identifiable information. Wrongful disclosure is punishable by a fine of up to $250,000, five years of imprisonment and is a felony. The Census Bureau takes your confidential information very seriously and does not share it with any other government agency.
SUN: How long will the Census go on? What do citizens need to do to get their information to you? I understand that most of the Census will be done online. How can people with no online access be counted?
JB: Everyone will be able to respond to the Census until July 31, but should respond as soon as they receive the first invitation in March. You can respond by smartphone! If a person or household does not have internet access or a smartphone, we are working now with the Free Library of Philadelphia and other public spaces to serve as mobile questionnaire access centers. People will be able to go to those locations as determined to respond to the Census during normal hours of operation and at designated dates and times.
SUN: During the last Census, I was an enumerator, meaning that I was one of the people that went door to door. I also supervised a Census enumerator crew. It was a good way to make some decent money between jobs. Are you still looking for Census workers? If so, what are some of the requirements needed to get a job working with the Census? Does that help you if you’re interested in other government work?
JB: There are many jobs available with the 2020 Census, but all of them are temporary. The hourly rate of pay has recently increased to between $23-$28/hour. Census workers receive paid training, direct deposit and are paid weekly. This is an excellent opportunity for retirees, students and anyone interested in helping their community while earning extra income. All applications are being taken online at Working for the Census is a federal position with the US. Department of Commerce, so those that are interested can apply to other government positions as internal candidates. Requirements for other government positions vary. To work for the 2020 Census, candidates must be 18 years of age by April 1, 2020 and be U.S. citizens. The citizenship requirement can be waived if the candidate qualifies to assist in hard-to-count populations. Preference will be given to veterans, the disabled and those who speak more than one language.
SUN: Thanks for your time, Jennifer. Philadelphia is a city with a lot of needs. I wish you luck in your efforts to get an accurate count so those needs can be met.
JB: Thank you for helping us get the word out.

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