Leaders of several St. Louis-area organizations and businesses are taking the first steps to prepare for the upcoming United States census.
The Missouri Foundation for Health held the St. Louis Regional Census Convening on Friday. Area leaders met to discuss the tactics and practices necessary to collect accurate data for the next census in 2020.
“The biggest challenge with the 2020 census is just getting people to understand that it’s coming and, really, what the census means for communities,” said Alexandra Rankin, the government affairs manager for the Missouri Foundation for Health.
Accurate data presented to the federal government could lead to more federal funding for programs across the state, Rankin said. The federal government uses census data for programs such as Medicaid, the Highway Planning and Construction Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Congressional representation is also decided through census reports.
“I think it’s up to private entities to help public organizations and entities to help get out the word about any messaging on the census,” Rankin said. “I think that’s really where all of those organizations can step in and sort of tell their employees, tell their clients.”
Changes And Challenges
The 2020 census will be the first year the census bureau will allow people to self-report online. It might also be the first year since 1950 that questions regarding an individual's citizenship status could be included. The Supreme Court is expected to decide in June if the census can include the question.
The potential changes could present challenges that may prevent an accurate population count for hard-to-count populations that are often underserved communities. Those populations may lack accessible internet access.
Bethany Johnson-Javois, CEO of St. Louis Integrated Health Network, said citizenship questions could lead to reduced participation for fear of how the information is shared. She also said she wants to see more accurate numbers from the last census in 2010.
“In the city of St. Louis, there was pretty significant undercounting,” said Johnson-Javois. “The priority is making sure that people of the prime zone of this region are counted.”
Inaccurate numbers could have a significant impact on the state. A 2018 report by The George Washington Institute of Public Policy shows that Missouri forfeits an estimated $1,272 in federal funds for every undercounted resident.
Representatives from the census bureau at the event said while they expect a large number of people to participate online, residents without internet access won’t be left behind.
“The Bureau has done research in order to determine where there is internet coverage and where there is under-coverage,” said Marilyn Sanders, regional director for the census bureau. “There will be invitations sent to them. They will receive mail where they are able to either self-respond or send the questionnaire back.”
Census bureau employees will also focus on outreach efforts to engage with local communities throughout the state through Complete Count Committees, Sanders said. Those committees will be prioritized in traditionally low-responding areas, where bureau officials said they’ll work with local residents to encourage greater participation.
The census begins April 1, 2020.
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