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Over the last 10 years, the village of Forest Park has missed out on approximately $7.5 million from the federal government every year because only 74 percent of its residents were counted in the 2010 census—that was just one message hammered home by almost every speaker at the “Census 2020 Proviso Complete Count Commission Informational” meeting on July 25 at the Sheet Metal Workers’ Local 73 union hall in Hillside.

Elected officials on the dais—including Cook County Clerk Karen Yarbrough, Commissioner Brandon Johnson, Proviso Township Supervisor Michael Corrigan, Maywood Trustee Nathaniel Booker—repeated the message to the approximately 50 attendees that getting a complete count in the upcoming census could add millions to the balance sheets of every community each year.

In his opening remarks, Corrigan explained that local governments receive about $1,500 per person per year from the $675 billion available in annual funding from the federal government. Therefore, local governments lose $15,000 for every person not counted during the 10-year break between censuses. 

In addition to the distribution of federal funding, census data is used to determine how many seats each state is given in the House of Representatives in Washington D.C. Yarbrough warned that Illinois is in danger of losing two seats in Congress if the state does not get a complete count.  

The Census Bureau also noted that, in addition to how federal funding is distributed and legislative seats are apportioned, the data collected by the organization influences legislators’ policy decisions and is used by entrepreneurs to decide where to locate businesses.

An informational sheet provided by the Census Bureau entitled “Why We Ask” explained what questions will be asked on the census and why.

“Name”—to ensure everyone in a household is counted.

“Sex”—used to evaluate if government programs are meeting the needs of citizens. The only two choices will be male and female.

“Age and Date of Birth”—again to evaluate government programs and to “help enforce laws, regulations and policies against age discrimination.”

“Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin”—to “monitor compliance with antidiscrimination provisions such as the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.”

“Race”—again to monitor compliance with civil and voting rights legislation.

“Where you live”—in order to make sure that each person is counted only once. For example, some children live with their father part-time and with their mother the rest of the time.

“Relationship”—to the “central person” in the household to assist in the planning and funding of government programs to provide services for families, single parents and grandparents living with grandchildren.

Without saying it out loud, the Census Bureau revealed a sensitivity to the controversy over the “citizenship question” by providing two pages on the question of confidentiality.  Quotes from the handout include:

“Your answers can only be used to produce statistics—they cannot be used against you in any way.”

“Every Census Bureau employee takes an oath to protect your personal information for life. Your answers cannot be used for law enforcement purposes or to determine your personal eligibility for government benefits.”

Officials started preparing for the 2020 census last year, with census workers conducting Boundary and Annexation Surveys, updating census addresses, searching for the construction of new housing and reviewing statistical information. Address canvasing will take place next month through October. 

The sense of urgency in the voices of presenters at the event is explained by how quickly deadlines are approaching. Each village, including Forest Park, will be asked to form a Complete Count Committee to enlist partners—faith-based organizations, schools, local governments, individuals, local governments, business owners—to build awareness, educate the public about the importance of sending their census forms in, and encouraging everyone in their community to participate. 

In March 2019, 95 percent of Forest Park residents will receive a mailed invitation to respond to the census online. If internet is unavailable in a household, responses can be sent in by mail or on the phone.  

“Only about 1% of households will be counted in person by a census taker, instead of being invited to respond on their own.”

Organizers working for the Census Bureau emphasize how important it is for individuals and groups to become what they call “2020 Census Recruiting Champions,” who will supplement the work of Complete Count Committees in their communities.

One suggestion is to have village councils pass resolutions encouraging a complete count. Another is to share census educational material with church groups. Still another is to volunteer to be a member of the Forest Park Complete Count Committee.

Daniela Martinez, who works at the Maywood Public Library, is working with PASO West Suburban Action Project to educate Spanish speakers about the importance of being counted—even if they are not citizens or lack documentation—and to create trust that, contrary to some of the rhetoric they’ve been hearing, their participation in the census will not lead to any negative consequences.

Nour Jaghama, who came to the event wearing a hijab and long black dress, works for Clerk Mike Porfirio in south suburban Lyons. She said she attended the event to figure out how Lyons could better include its hard-to-count residents. 

“We found that some communities in our township are among the hardest to count because they don’t have access to the internet or English is their second language, so we want to learn how to include them,” Jaghama said. 

She added: “Personally, just being a citizen, I find myself having the desire to help those around me and give back to the community.”

For those who would like to be paid for doing census work, submit resumes to 2020census.gove/jobs.