Efforts to maximize participation in the 2020 U.S. Census are being made by St. Mary’s, Charles, and Calvert counties through coordinated efforts.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) received a briefing Monday afternoon at the Charlotte Hall library from 2020 Census Complete Count Committees and census officials operating in Southern Maryland.
Since the formation in May, the committee has come up with ways to bring awareness of the importance of the U.S. census to members of historically low response groups such as low-income households, people who are homeless, children younger than 5, racial and ethnic minorities, undocumented immigrants, people who do not speak English fluently, young mobile men and women, LGBTQ people, and people who may be angry at or distrust the government.
Four meetings were held by the complete count committee before the briefing, where information from the U.S. Census Bureau was distributed.
In November, the Maryland Department of Planning provided a grant application to St. Mary’s and other rural counties for funding to raise census awareness.
Sudha K. Haley, chair of the Calvert County Census 2020 Complete Count Committee, said Calvert’s main goal is to educate the public, motivate individuals to respond timely and implement local publicity outreach efforts.
“We want to increase response rate to 90%,” she said, mentioning that in 2010, the response rate was 70%.
“The committee has been developing special outreach strategies … we need to let [residents] know that [the county] gets $1,800 for every count that we get and we need that money in our county,” she said.
Some outreach was done by Calvert County already, including advertisements in parks and recreation brochures, alerts to national active and retired federal employees, recruitment emails sent to library patrons, and a town sign in Chesapeake and North Beach, which are historically low-response areas.
Other outreach plans are contingent on receiving grant funds from the state and involve sending notices home with students of public schools, publication advertising, and banners in prominent locations as well as historically low-response areas.
“What we are doing in St. Mary’s County works primarily through a subcommittee system,” Bill Hunt, chair of the St. Mary’s County committee, told the congressman, “where we have education, human services, business, community services and media subcommittees.”
Hunt said that through the central Census Count Committee, the subcommittees have an organizing platform to share ideas at quarterly meetings but in the meantime, they handle the efforts and outreach that they think is most efficient for the groups they are interested in serving.
“That will be bolstered significantly … when commissioners approve our $20,000 grant,” Hunt said.
The grant was approved by St. Mary’s County commissioners at their weekly meeting on Tuesday. The funds will go toward a multi-media outreach advertising campaign, which ALisa Casas, St. Mary’s public information officer, is leading. The campaign will target different messages in various media based on input from subcommittees.
“We’re going to take the grant that was given” and use it to advertise “through television, through radio, through print and internet and social media. We’re also going to go through [Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative]. They’ve agreed to give us some space in their newsletter that is mailed to everyone who has a bill but is also sent out through their e-notices,” Casas said.
St. Mary’s has already sent out several news releases and has had Lee Osberry, a Census Bureau partner specialist, visit the county to explain the importance of the census to commissioners, which was televised for public viewing and was also posted on the county government Youtube channel.
The coordinator of the Charles County committee, Amy Blessinger, said they are “working through committee members, using them as an avenue to get the word out to the hard-to-count population in areas of the county. … We have a wide variety of members that are actively engaged.”
She said each committee member is creating their own action plans, which are about to get finalized this month.
In addition to partnerships with various county agencies, Charles County held a number of census recruitment fairs and job events. The county also held it’s first ever citizen’s academy where residents were invited to learn more about how county government operates, and the census was promoted through that program. Charles applied for the state census grant funds and expects to receive those before the end of the month to be used to fund the promotion plan that their media staff has developed using local businesses and other media outlets.
Tina Kozoski of the Charles County Census Count Committee said they plan to reach out through senior center monthly newsletters, the public transit system and community ambassadors.
While several committee members and census bureau employees identified distrust in the government as a large contributor to low response rates, a community ambassador is a trusted individual within the community that can encourage others to participate.
“There is a real economic reason to be involved in this, it’s not just political,” Hoyer said, mentioning the Hispanic community has a tremendous obstacle to overcome because of great fear among “Dreamers,” primarily individuals who are undocumented students and youth.
Hoyer told the committee that “the census is critically important and determines how federal resources are allocated for public health, education and workforce training, and transportation for our communities … we must work together throughout Maryland to ensure that everyone is counted. I look forward to continuing to work with Complete Count Committees throughout the Fifth District to ensure an accurate count,” adding “I appreciated our discussion today, and I am grateful for the hard work the Complete Count Committees are doing to raise awareness and coordinate between local governments and community organizations for the upcoming census in Southern Maryland.”