A new decade–a new count. Since 1790, the United States has conducted a census every 10 years. With more than $675 billion in federal funding flowing back to states and local communities based on census data, Georgia wants to make sure it gets its fair share.
In the 2010 Census, Georgia ranked 31st in response rate. The 2010 Census count placed Georgia’s population at 9,687,653, which provided the state with more than $16 billion annually. From infants to young children to older adults, for every person counted, Georgia receives approximately $2,300 from the federal government.
A more accurate count will provide the state and local communities with much-needed funding that supports more than 100 federal programs, including Medicaid, Head Start, block grants for communities, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP.
Federal funds also trickle down to local communities for healthcare, education, and infrastructure. In 2015, Georgia received $1.6 billion in federal allocations for education-related programs.
Established in 2017, Georgia’s Complete Count Committee (GCCC) is charged with developing and coordinating the state’s 2020 Census outreach program and marketing campaign, and ramping up the message that Every.One.Counts.
“Not only are the budgetary implications of the census significant, but implications regarding reapportionment prove to be equally important,” says Dave Wills executive director of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG). “The two are related as we want to ensure locals receive adequate funding to provide necessary services to their residents, and we want to ensure we have the number of congressional seats—adequate representation—that accurately reflect the size of our state’s population.”
The ACCG is working to provide the state’s 159 counties with the proper educational and marketing tools, as well as other support to gain an accurate census count. The ACCG’s efforts also extend to its partnership with the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) in the publication of a joint monthly newsletter—Locals Count—and hosting webinars and workshops focused on the 2020 Census.
“Understanding that the census count is a grassroots effort on the local level, ACCG has been sharing information with our members since 2018 to help them prepare,” says Wills. “We’ve published a series of articles in our Georgia County Government magazine, integrated census information into our social media strategy, and created a 2020 Census page on our website with specific data for our members to use.”
Throughout the state, Local Complete Count Committees have enlisted broad-based participation from county and municipal leaders, schools and colleges, regional commissions, chambers of commerce, economic development authorities, hospitals, and faith-based and non-profit organizations.
In Georgia, 22 percent of the state’s population live in hard-to-count (HTC) areas, which the U.S. Census Bureau identifies as populations “for whom a real or perceived barrier exists to full and representative inclusion in the data collection process.” These segments include people that are difficult to locate, contact, persuade, or interview.
In Colquitt County, Hispanics and Latinos represent a large part of the HTC population.
From the 2000 to 2010 census, Colquitt County gained 3,445 people, with 93 percent of the gain identified as Hispanic or Latino.
With only 78.3 percent of Colquitt County’s households mailing back their 2010 Census questionnaire, there is room for improvement in the 2020 Census count.
Sarah Adams, the University of Georgia Archway Professional for Colquitt County, is working with Colquitt County’s LCCC to help educate and build an awareness surrounding the 2020 Census.
“We are working toward an accurate count,” says Adams. “It’s not about increasing or even decreasing the numbers. We want to make sure everyone living in Colquitt County—all ages, races, and segments of the community are counted.”
As the state’s largest vegetable and row crop-producing region, Adams says Colquitt County’s Hispanic and Latino population is critical to the census count.
To reach this crucial demographic audience, Adams turned to the assistance of Bertha Riojas-Jasso, a program assistant for the University of Georgia’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Program (EFNEP). Through her already established connections, she can communicate the importance of the census and explain how it provides financial assistance to benefit schools, healthcare, and other services.
As a volunteer, Riojas-Jasso is part of Colquitt County’s LCCC and is working directly with the Hispanic and Latino communities. Having worked with Colquitt County’s 2010 Census efforts, Riojas-Jasso says she is happy to volunteer her time again. “I know where the farms and camps are located. The farmers know and trust me and allow me to talk directly to the workers.”
“Anytime we can get Bertha in front of people to talk about the census, we are there,” says Adams. “Sometimes, it’s a more structured event. Last year, we set up an information booth at a migrant camp and gave out information.”
Partnering with Valdosta State University, Adams says Colquitt County has received customized marketing materials, including those translated in Spanish, at no cost.
“The printed materials are specifically tailored to the audience,” says Adams. “We want to make sure the message is appropriate, and that people understand how the census relates to them personally.”
With the 2020 U.S. Census scheduled to start on April 1, the Pew Research Center reports that Americans overwhelmingly are aware of it, and more than 80 percent say they will definitely or probably participate. That leaves approximately 16 percent with some uncertainty about responding.
Adams says while there is an emphasis placed on the Hispanic and Latino populations, the Colquitt County LCCC is also working to make sure the census message reaches all segments of the community.
Starting last year, LCCC members were visible at events such as the Sunbelt Ag Expos (which brings more than 80,000 visitors to the region), fall festivals, and sporting events.
Adams says there are misconceptions about the census. “One of the biggest push backs I’ve received when talking about the census is the perception that ‘it’s none of the government’s business,’ or ‘it doesn’t benefit me.’ It’s important to use those moments to educate and encourage people by showing statistics and naming actual programs that impact their community or perhaps someone they know.”
Using examples of healthcare, education, and infrastructure, Adams says these areas either directly or indirectly impact everyone.
“We pay our federal taxes, and it goes to Washington, the census is a way to get some of those funds back to our community,” she says. “It is our money, and we have to claim it, and the way we claim it is through the census.”
As the 2020 Census timeline moves from awareness to the motivation phase (March and April), Adams says it’s an all-hands-on-deck approach. “I am encouraging our complete count committee members to take advantage of opportunities right where they are—at the grocery store, workplace, place of worship, etc., and start the conversation about the census.”