BELLEVILLE — The outcome of the 2020 census will have lasting implications for people and communities in Illinois and across the U.S.
Mainly, the once-a-decade headcount provides a framework for how more than $1.5 trillion in federal money is distributed to states every year. The census begins on April 1.
“The majority of the funding we receive both at the state and federal level that allows us to provide services addressing poverty is based on census population,” said Dalitso Sulamoyo, board chair of the Illinois Association of Community Action Agencies. The association is a collection of state and community agencies that address poverty in Illinois.
The survey also determines how much congressional representation each state has.
“Illinois has lost one congressional seat every year that the census has been taken,” said Marishonta Wilkerson, co-coordinator of the Illinois Census Office. “The census is important this time around because we don’t want to lose two seats.”
Locally, the census may determine if cities in the Metro East keep their home-rule status.
“It’s really important in East St. Louis because the city is on the border of losing home rule, which would prevent it from being able to manage its own federal funding,” said Shannon Anderson, a program manager at Teens Against Killing Everywhere. The organization and the IACAA are using grant money to raise awareness about the census in Metro East communities.
Risk of an undercount
The Metro East faces a few challenges to an accurate count.
“The top hard-to-count populations are people without cellphone plans, households that don’t have any internet access at all, nonfamily households, a lot of rental housing,” Wilkerson said.
Renters may be undercounted just by the nature of how the census asks its questions, she said. Someone responding to the census may not count their roommates because they’re not technically family and the census asks about family members, Wilkerson said.
St. Clair County has the most pronounced challenges in the area when it comes to reaching people and persuading them to fill out the census.
“There are outstanding issues such as poverty, lack of internet, lack of transportation, distrust of the government—just barriers to people wanting to complete the census,” Anderson said.
Impoverished communities are particularly difficult to connect with because they often don’t have easy access to information, Sulamoyo said.
To combat this, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the state Legislature dedicated $29 million to accurately count hard-to-reach communities. About $20 million of that money goes to local organizations across the state in the form of grants.
“There's no other state in this country that has made such an investment for the census on a per capita basis,” Wilkerson said.
The remaining $9 million is in case some communities around the state are still not engaging with the census after community organizing efforts.
“If we see that there’s a certain neighborhood or city or county that is not getting engaged and is not being counted, there are funds that we can use to close those gaps,” she said.
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