UPPER MARLBORO — The Prince George’s County Council received a briefing from members of the Census 2020 Complete County Committee on strategies and outreach efforts to ensure that all county residents are accounted for in the upcoming 2020 Census at their meeting on July 2.
“It is painfully clear with each passing day that it is imperative that we have an all hands on deck, energized approach to getting a complete count in Prince George’s County, and I would surmise throughout the county, but for right now we’re concerned about Prince George’s County,” said Census 2020 Complete Count Chair Elizabeth Hewlett.
According to Information Management Division Chief James Cannistra, the census will officially be available for people to fill out on March 12. Residents will have until June to complete it.
Most residents will receive a flyer from the U.S. Census Bureau, which will contain a code that people can use to fill out the census online on any device.
Residents will also have the option to complete the census by mail.
The census will be mailed out to residents five times, and then representatives from the Census Bureau will pay a visit if the census is not filled out by a specific time, Cannistra said. Bilingual families will be identified, and they will receive the option to fill out the poll in up to 12 different languages.
The committee has been involved in several roles and activities up to this point to ensure that the census reaches everyone in the county.
“The most important thing for us, and all of the folks here as well as the members of the Planning Department is certainly being an important advocate for the census and for completing and getting that count as high as we possibly can,” Cannistra said.
These efforts include data production and analysis where the committee has been working to provide information to the U.S. Census Bureau so that their mailings get to the right people and identifying hard to count areas, areas with a low response rate and places where a significant amount of people speak a language other than English.
The committee has also met with various state, county and nonprofit organizations have been working on a marketing campaign and are planning outreach activities up until the census are sent out.
“One of the fabulous things about this county is we are a county that celebrates and convenes and interacts with our community, so it provides countless efforts for us to have a huge presence,” Hewlett said.
As the Census 2020 outreach coordinator, Jordan Baucum Colbert detailed other initiatives she has taken to ensure that Prince George’s County is counted accurately.
Over the past seven weeks, she attended state and local meetings, community events, met with community stakeholders and has had one-on-one sessions with each of the county council members.
Additionally, the committee has partnered with agencies such as the Prince George’s County Police Department, the Department of Social Services, Prince George’s County Public Schools and the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System.
“We realize how important it is,” said Thomas Johnson with the Prince George’s County Office of Community Relations. “Getting an accurate count means that we get more dollars, that we get more support for our county, we get things that people have had issues about that we know that we need here.”
According to Johnson, the Office of Community Relations will hold 100 events up until the census release date where they will have their team distribute information to the community. To penetrate hard-to-reach populations, they have employed a Latino liaison and a team to target troublesome areas specifically.
Johnson also emphasized the importance of partnering with local nonprofit organizations because “they are the faces of the community; people trust them and know them.”
After the briefing, members of the county council had the opportunity to ask questions and give suggestions to the committee. One of the biggest concerns was how the committee will go about reaching residents who are not citizens.
At-Large Councilmember (At-Large) Mel Franklin asked a series of questions on the topic such as whether the federal court’s decision to not include a citizenship question on the census was final, how it will affect outreach efforts and who has access to individual data.
Those on the committee said that while the decision on the citizenship question is not final, they are committed to connecting with residents who are afraid to answer the census for fear of deportation and be as transparent as possible when assuring them of the benefits of completing the census.
According to Hewlett, it is illegal for personal information given through the census to be used to means of justifying deportation. Disclosing the information to anyone outside of those who are authorized for handle the census is punishable by a fine and prison time. She emphasized the importance of making sure that the community knows this.
Part of this work is going to be done by community ambassadors, such as nonprofits that work directly with the community. They will be the most effective in getting this information to the residents that they work with and building trust among them.
“We really do need the ambassadors to help build that trust and to emphasize what the census means, what the count means in terms of resources that will then become available to our community,” Hewlett said.
“As a county, we can’t afford to be undercounted. We have to let all of our citizens know that this means dollars and resources for education, for transportation, for housing, for so many other programs and things that benefit us.”
Councilmembers Rodney Streeter (District 7) and Jolene Ivey had concerns with how refugees and prisoners would be counted. According to Cannistra, places like detention centers and group count those who reside there all together, and the committee will appoint a liaison or an ambassador to work with the refugee population.
There were a few suggestions made by the county council such as Councilmember Deni Taveras who thought that Back To School nights would be an important place to distribute information because of the number of parents that gather there.
Councilmember Dannielle Glaros (District 2) also suggested outreach at schools and asked that committee members consider gathering schools after hours to have families fill out the census then.
“In my experience, my immigrant and my refugee communities, of any place they feel the safest it is typically in the school that their kids go to,” she said.