By Bob Uphues
Top elected officials in Illinois visited Riverside on Nov. 4 to rally local governments, grassroots organizations and residents to raise awareness of the upcoming 2020 Census and advocate for an accurate count in order to keep federal dollars flowing to the state and maintain representation in Congress.
U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Springfield) and Congressman Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-4th) said the state stands to lose up to $18,000 in federal aid over the next decade for each person who isn't counted during next year's census.
"The money that's coming back here depends on census data," said Durbin, who was making his first official appearance in the Riverside-Brookfield area since 2013. "It also has a tremendous impact on our congressional delegation. … It's not uncommon for us to lose one congressional district every 10 years."
Both Durbin and Garcia said officials at the state and local levels need to urge participation in the census next year after attempts by President Donald Trump's administration to place a citizenship question on the census.
The move was seen as a way to drive down participation by immigrants and undocumented residents and lower counts in urban areas like Chicago and its suburbs, where there are large Latino populations, who already are considered hard-to-count populations.
While the federal courts ruled out the citizenship question, Garcia said that effort did damage.
"We have to do a lot of work to overcome all the fear and confusion that that effort has caused," Garcia said. "It's causing many people to rethink whether they will participate in the census."
According to Garcia, the first Mexican-American congressman elected in Illinois, local and state officials need to work to ensure immigrant communities trust that their information will remain confidential and safe.
"They need as many trusted messengers as possible to rebuild the confidence and to mobilize the communities into participating," Garcia said. "Our young children were one of the most uncounted groups 10 years ago."
According to Garcia, more than 1 million children were not counted in 2010 nationwide, including about 150,000 in Illinois.
"That is nearly $2.7 million that was lost in services to our communities," Garcia said, who added Cook County had the fourth largest undercount in the U.S in 2010. "We can't let that happen once again."
Durbin said that in 2015, more than 130 federal programs used census data to divvy up $675 billion in federal funding, $20 billion of which came back to Illinois in the form of formula grants based on population counts.
The programs that benefit from such funding include Medicare and Medicaid, Head Start early childhood development programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as well as a variety of road improvement and other infrastructure initiatives.
People can begin self-reporting information to the U.S. Census Bureau beginning March 13, 2020 through the end of August. For the first time ever, people can enter information online or via telephone in addition to mailing in forms.
More information can be found at census.illinois.gov.
While the census reporting is still months away, there are efforts underway at the local level to begin reaching out to residents, especially hard-to-count populations. The village of Brookfield has established a Complete Count Committee, which includes village officials, church and school leaders, social service agencies and media partners, including the Riverside-Brookfield Landmark.
The committee is scheduled to meet for the second time on Nov. 13 to discuss how the committee can identify partners, engage the community and spread awareness.
"The village is committed to working with the Complete Count Committee to ensure that an accurate count is made for all individuals residing in Brookfield," said Brookfield Assistant Village Manager George Issakoo, who attended the Nov. 4 forum in the auditorium of the Riverside Township Hall. Riverside Village President Ben Sells also attended the session.
"We plan to use resources like those offered at today's event, in addition to creative collaboration with our partner agencies on the committee, to raise awareness about the census and its importance," Issakoo said.