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Concerns about federal and state government readiness for the 2020 Census arose early in 2018, prompting foundations across the country, and including in metro Kansas City, to take steps to organize people and resources to ensure a complete and accurate count.
Inadequate federal funding for the 2020 Census was among the first concerns, but controversy over a proposed citizenship question, federal plans to implement the first-ever digital response, and distrust about government protection of personal information added to worries about a potential undercount.
The REACH Foundation joined the Funders Census Initiative working group in 2018 to tap into the recommendations of philanthropies across the country that were actively engaged. These national conversations prompted REACH and other area foundations to convene local organizations to work on regional mobilization efforts.
In 2019, the REACH Foundation and Health Forward Foundation awarded grants to the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) to take the lead in forming a Kansas City Regional Complete Count Committee to coordinate strategy development and serve as a communications resource for local governments and other groups interested in supporting the census.
MARC convened bistate government leaders, public libraries, and health, social services, immigrant- and refugee-serving organizations, early childhood and K-12 entities, and other groups to identify trusted leaders, potential assisters and effective messages to reach people in hard-to-count communities.
Marlene Nagel, Director of Community Development at MARC, said early efforts were focused on understanding barriers to participation in the census; pinpointing areas at high risk of being undercounted; and building a coherent communications strategy that could be adapted cross the bistate region.
Although MARC had been involved in previous census efforts, Nagel said there was a notable difference in planning for 2020. “There have always been challenges with getting a complete count, but this time we saw much less trust in government and more barriers for people to respond.” In the 2010 Census, MARC research staff estimates the Kansas City metropolitan area was undercounted by 1 percent. The undercount was even higher for minority populations — an estimated 2.1 percent of Blacks and 1.5 percent of Latinos were not counted.
The Regional Complete Count Committee and sub-groups immediately delved into how to minimize distrust and elevate the local and regional benefits of participation. Drawing on Johnson County government’s Count Me in JoCo theme, “CountMeInKC” was selected for the metro area campaign and a website was launched to share information and communications tools and materials. Organizations were tapped to serve as information and assistance sites, and more than 120 locations were secured. Information and messages were translated into multiple languages, and leaders with close ties to their communities volunteered to be spokespersons for the outreach campaign.
The REACH Foundation awarded $91,000 to MARC to support regional census outreach planning, and marketing and communications messages and tools. The foundation’s investments in census outreach totaled $140,710 in 2019.
To further increase community and neighborhood engagement, REACH and a group of area foundations launched a Metro Kansas City Census Equity Fund to provide grants of up to $10,000 to fund more localized efforts. The Census Equity Fund began accepting proposals in August 2019, giving priority to groups working with residents at risk of being undercounted due to culture, language, age and other factors. Over an eight-month period, the Census Equity Fund awarded $230,000 to 23 organizations working with seniors, preschool-age children and families, immigrants and refugees, and homeless youth and adults.
El Centro, Inc., a REACH Foundation grantee that promotes and assists with health access, education and economic empowerment in the Latino community, was awarded a Census Equity Fund grant to conduct outreach to Latino populations in Wyandotte County. Erica Andrade, Chief Program Officer, said Spanish language radio and television have been key partners in educating the Latino community. Andrade said Latino-focused news, music and talk show programs and Facebook “are popular and trusted sources, more than traditional, mainstream media – and they are always ready to help educate on important issues that affect our community.”
Andrade said Univision produced a census education campaign during which they interviewed a series of recognized community leaders in Wyandotte County and Kansas City, MO. La Mega radio station regularly attends El Centro’s events, and has dispatched their media car to drive through neighborhoods and broadcast messages encouraging people to complete the census.
“The potential for an undercount in some communities was particularly high due to distrust of government and the data collection process,” said Brenda Sharpe, REACH President and CEO. “Our motivation was making sure people understood the positive, long-term impact a complete count would have on each individual’s household and community.”
Sharpe said the numerous ways in which census data are used to identify and support health and other essential benefits and program needs created urgency for REACH to work with foundation peers and local groups to mobilize a complete count effort.