State and local organizations have been ramping up efforts for months to make sure all Missourians are aware of the census.
From the fliers in mailboxes to the countless ads on social media, TV, radio and billboards, the state is working to explain what the census is and why it’s important. But on a recent day outside St. Louis City Hall, it’s clear the message hasn’t been heard by everyone.
"I kind of don't know what it is,” Rachel Baltazar said. “Like, I have an idea that it's something with knowing where everybody is or where they are. But I don't know the exact details."
But the census, filled out every 10 years, plays a key role in determining both Missouri’s Congressional representation and federal funding for the state.
“That census data is used to calculate around $16 billion a year in federal funding that comes to Missouri,” said John Shikles, policy counsel and director of census operations for Gov. Mike Parson’s office.
Those federal dollars are important, because they trickle down into money for roads and bridges as well as federal programs like Medicaid, SNAP and CHIP.
For every person that’s not counted, the state will lose $1,300 per person every year for the next decade, adding up to $13,000 per person. And back in 2010, Shikles said Missouri lost a Congressional seat.
“Luckily this time around, we aren't at risk of either gaining or losing a seat in the House,” Shikles said, “but that is something that we definitely remember, and we want to make sure that we are getting the most complete count possible to avoid anything like that in the future."
In 2018, Parson created the Missouri 2020 Complete Count Committee. It’s a mix of state government, agencies, nonprofits and businesses. The committee set aside $501,650 to help with outreach efforts across the state, including the launch of a statewide media campaign. The messaging was based on the Missouri Counts initiative crafted by the Missouri Foundation for Health.
Alex Rankin, the interim director of health policy for the foundation, said while messaging is important, the messenger is crucial, especially in communities that historically do not trust the government.
“The Census Bureau can't share your information with anyone,” Rankin said. “I think if it were only the government framing that message it wouldn't really resonate as loudly as when it's the community organization that's embedded in a neighborhood.”
The foundation collaborated with 10 St. Louis funders and pooled their resources together to create a grant opportunity called the St. Louis Regional Census Fund. More than $400,000 was pooled together to support 30 organizations in the St. Louis region in order to build awareness and participation for the census.
The city of St. Louis has also been working to make sure all residents are counted. In 2019, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson signed an executive order to create a complete count committee in the city.
Charles Bryson, director of the Civil Rights Enforcement Agency, is also chair of the committee. He said it's important to reach historically hard to count communities that include people of color, immigrants and children.
His committee has been working with clergy leaders, LGBTQ organizations, and reaching into the black and Hispanic communities to help them educate others about the census.
“I want to touch everybody, every single way that I can to make sure that they know the census is important to them,” Bryson said.
The committee is also working with St. Louis Public Libraries and recreation centers for the remainder of March and April. At those designated locations, residents will have access to a laptop every Saturday in order to fill out the census.
Missourians can now fill out the census here.
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