Chandler gears up for crucial 2020 census SanTan Sun News

Chandler gears up for crucial 2020 census

Chandler gears up for crucial 2020 census
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By Gary Nelson

Contributor

 

It’s going to be easy to overlook a little postcard that will arrive in your mail next March.

Between the kids, the rent, the job and the busted washing machine, it won’t seem like a big deal. Plus, it’ll probably be hard to find among all the pizza coupons and dental implant ads.

All that notwithstanding, Chandler is hoping you’ll treat that card like a piece of gold. 

Because, in a way, it is.

The card is going to come from the U.S. Census Bureau, and it’s going to ask you some questions about how many people live in your home, your ethnicity and similar stuff.

Whether you respond could help determine how many federal dollars will be used to improve your hometown, and your answers will have a bearing on who ultimately represents you in Congress, the Legislature or even your City Council.

The financial stakes are huge. According to the Maricopa Association of Governments, the federal government distributes $675 billion a year to cities and states, depending on their populations. Arizona gets $13.5 billion of that, and the more people your city counts, the more money it gets.

Based on how many people live where, Arizona’s congressional and legislative district maps will be redrawn after census results are in. 

The official date for the 2020 census is April 1. That seems like a long way off, but some East Valley cities already have been preparing for months.

Leah Powell, Chandler’s neighborhood resources director, said the city launched its “Complete Count” committee a year ago. Between that group, seven subcommittees and city staff, she estimated 30-35 people are deeply involved in the Chandler census effort.

“We’re focusing on getting to parts of the community that were under-represented in past censuses,” she said. “Across the country in the last census, Latino populations with young children were under-represented. So that’s something we have tried to focus on.”

Powell said Chandler is trying to identify “trusted voices” in various sub-populations to build confidence in the census and overcome fears resulting from the debate over the citizenship question.

 Powell said the city has been trying to define exactly how much federal money the city receives in census-allocated programs, but one commonly cited example is Community Development Block Grants.

“Those dollars are used to support public services, they’re used to support keeping people in their homes through housing rehab projects,” Powell said. 

“We use them for infrastructure projects, we have been doing park improvements with it. So, it’s something that residents throughout the city can benefit” from, she added.

Chandler City Council created the committee in June 2018 with an ordinance directing it to “guide staff and community efforts in the promotion and outreach of the 2020 Census.”

The ordinance notes that city officials want “to promote and develop community outreach for the Chandler 2020 Census in a manner that is inclusive and representative of the needs and desires of Chandler’s citizens” and that the committee “is deemed necessary.”

That desire for inclusiveness is reflected in the number of subcommittees that the panel has formed. 

There are subcommittees for Asians, businesses, education and one for the elderly, disabled and veterans.

There also is a faith subcommittee, 

Latino panel and one that will be devoted to marketing and social media,

Chaired by Chandler Councilman Mark Stewart, the committee’s main charge is to “make recommendations to help the count reach every community.” 

 “Hard-to-count areas are a particular focus of the City,” the managing director said on the city website. “In these areas, people may not have access to the internet. They might also be unaccustomed to interacting and even trusting the government.”

It also notes the committee “will work to increase understanding about the importance of the census and educate Chandler residents on how to participate.”

Both Chandler and Mesa, the region’s largest and most diverse municipality, sees potential threats when it comes to getting an accurate count.

Councilman Francisco Heredia leads the city’s 20-plus person task force that has been meeting since last year to plan census strategies.

Heredia said public apathy and fear of government intrusion can make it hard to count everyone even in a normal year. But this time around the count could be even more difficult, especially in areas with high immigrant populations.

The reason is an effort by the Trump administration to add to this year’s form a question asking whether the respondents are U.S. citizens. 

The administration said the question would be asked in an effort to enforce voting-rights laws. 

But the American Civil Liberties Union produced evidence in May that the question was part of a Republican strategy to intimidate Hispanics and create electoral advantages for Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in late June that the citizenship question could not be added to the census for now, but the ruling rested on the technical issue of whether the administration had adequately explained its reasons for wanting to include it. 

President Trump on July 11 abandoned his effort to have the question included in the 2020 census. But Heredia fears the controversy already has had a chilling effect in Mesa, which is 30 percent Hispanic.

“We feel the citizenship question … has had its effect as far as creating some fear with some residents,” Heredia said. “We’re just going to have to do our part to help them understand that it’s a process that every 10 years we take part in. It’s as safe as possible. But it’s definitely going to be a challenge.”

And in some ways, Trump may have triggered an unexpected effect: some people have posted on social media that they will not participate in the Census because Trump was not allowed to pose the citizenship question.

Gilbert is counting on technology to boost its 2020 census numbers.

“We’re excited that the 2020 census will be online for the first time,” said Jennifer Alvarez, who leads Gilbert’s communications department. “Our average age is 33, so we’ve really built our communications efforts around digital tools.”

For example, Alvarez said, about 50,000 of Gilbert’s 80,000 households are tied in to an app called Nextdoor. Using that and other apps such as Twitter and Instagram, the town will communicate how and why to respond to the census.

“Our whole mentality is to meet our residents where they are, and they are online. So the fact that the census is moving online is the perfect thing for us,” Alvarez said.

Alvarez said Gilbert will enlist community leaders and homeowners associations in the effort.

 “We went through the special census a few years ago,” she said. “So we really understand how to reach our community.”

Queen Creek also will use social media to engage a community that already is enthusiastic about the coming census.

Marnie Schubert, who is Queen Creek’s director of marketing, communication and recreation, said the town’s “Complete Count” census committee was announced on June 5 and its members will be appearing at community events over the next nine months to spread the word.

“We had a very robust outreach plan for the 2015 mid-decade census,” she said. “In 2010 social media wasn’t even a thing yet. But in 2015 it really was. We’re very fortunate to have a very engaged community, so that very robust plan is going to complement what the Complete Count committee is doing.”

Schubert said Queen Creek doesn’t face the same challenges as some other cities when it comes to hard-to-reach populations. In 2015, she said, residents embraced the census and “understood census is important and why a true count matters.”

Tempe also has been working on the census for months under auspices of its council-appointed Complete Count committee.

“There is so much riding on getting an accurate count of Tempe residents,” Mayor Mark Mitchell said in a statement. “Funding for housing assistance, transportation projects and so much more depends on census results.”

The census efforts by local governments are part of a wider effort called #ICount2020 under auspices of the Maricopa Association of Governments.

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