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Government, Politics & Issues

The Census Will Accept Responses Until October — Here’s What That Means For Illinois

The census will only ask if respondents are 'male' or 'female.' That leaves out a growing number of people who identify outside of that gender binary.
Nat Thomas | St. Louis Public Radio
The census will now accept responses to the survey through October. The three-month extension gives states more opportunity to respond.

BELLEVILLE — The U.S. Census Bureau will extend the deadline for when people can respond to the census by three months. The revised schedule was pushed back last month because of the coronavirus outbreak, according to an updated schedule provided by the bureau. 

Nearly every aspect of how the census counts people living in the U.S. is impacted by this extension. The self-response window and in-person follow ups for households that do not respond will now wrap up at the end of October instead of July.

The extension presents both challenges and opportunities for Illinois, which has relied on local community organizations across the state to promote census engagement with state funded grants, through local in-person outreach, physical and social media advertising and events. 

The Illinois Department of Human Services granted nearly $30 million to 31 organizations across the state last November. Illinois Gov. Pritzker has said he will pass a full budget for the next fiscal year, but lawmakers have not returned to Springfield yet.

“That [funding] is just through this fiscal year, and then we hope to have an additional appropriation for our budget for census for fiscal year 2021, which would start in July,” said Marishonta Wilkerson, a 2020 census office director for Illinois, whose office is in IDHS. 

There’s about $8 million left of the original $30 million grant that’s partially going toward veterans, migrant workers and seniors, Wilkerson said, adding the money must be used by the end of June.

Budgeting aside, the bureau’s extension of the count is a net positive because it allows communities in Illinois more time to respond, Wilkerson said.

“If we have more time, we have more time to get it right,” she said.

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The county governments and community groups promoting census participation at a local level can continue doing so, even if they don’t get more funding from the state. It just becomes more difficult.

“We can still continue to encourage people to complete the questionnaire, but that would have to be done with funds outside of IDHS or private donations,” said Shannon Anderson, program manager at Teens Against Killing Everywhere (TAKE). The organization is based in East St. Louis and received grant money from the state.

Anderson expects census outreach in the Metro East will continue whether or not her organization receives another grant.

“The beautiful thing about this is we’re working with a lot of community partners and residents,” Anderson said. “Even without funding, I’m sure that the people we’ve been working with will continue.”

Her organization paid for online and physical advertising, like billboards, to get the word out about census participation. Anderson said the billboards will remain up until someone else buys the space, which could be after June 30.

Right now, TAKE is focused on using online methods to reach youth who are living below the poverty line, Anderson said.

“We have been meeting them on social media, and it has been working providing questionnaire assistance either through Facebook Live, Facebook Messenger or Instagram Live,” she said.

Anderson added seniors have been harder to engage right now. TAKE has less access to them right now because of the coronavirus, she said. 

Illinois has one of the best response rates among the 50 states so far in the 2020 census. Nearly 60% of households in the state have responded to the headcount already. In 2010, about 70% of households self-responded, Wilkerson said.

“Given where we are now, and we have all the way until October, I expect we will do better than we did in 2010,” she said. 

Wilkerson attributes the state’s success to its investment and encouragement of local organizations to take charge of census engagement, especially in hard-to-count areas like East St. Louis. In 2010, nearly 60% of the city self responded. That number is at 37% only seven weeks into the count this year, and before any in-person follow ups.

The pandemic has further underscored how important the results of the census are, since Illinois now faces a budget deficit, Wilkerson said.

“We are definitely going to need this funding for the next 10 years, especially after this pandemic,” she said. "We won’t get another chance to do it over.”

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid 

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