Ramsey County preparing for 2020 Census


courtesy City of St. Paul As a part of efforts to accurately count historically undercounted communities, the City of St. Paul and Ramsey County have created a Joint Complete Count Committee and are using data from the 2010 census to highlight areas that may need more attention during the 2020 census.

Next year, an essential democratic process will take place — the decennial national census. 

The census is a constitutionally mandated task for the country, as the data collected is used to determine the number of representatives each state gets in Congress, as well as the distribution of various types of funding.

Following the 2010 census, Minnesota was just 10,000 people away from losing one of its eight congressional seats, said Jolie Wood, a Ramsey County policy analyst, highlighting the importance of an accurate count. 

Wood gave a presentation at the Payne-Phalen Community Council meeting on Feb. 26, talking about the census and what it means for representation, funding and local communities. 

 

Representation at stake

“There’s a lot at stake,” Wood said, when it comes to participation and accurate counts taken during the census. 

She said not only is the state’s political representation affected by census counts, but also the amount of money allocated by the federal government to state, county and city aid programs, such as food stamps, Medicaid, Section 8 housing and the development of affordable housing in general. 

Jack Byers, executive director of the Payne-Phalen council, said that at an even more hyperlocal level, more than half the funding for St. Paul’s district councils come from Community Development Block Grants, part of a federal program that distributes funds to local municipalities based on census data. 

Wood said one of the challenges of the census is making sure community members trust the process. She said oftentimes people are wary of the government and its intentions with the data. She said that with the possible addition of a citizenship question, it makes it that much more difficult to gain needed trust. 

“We want to promote trust and make it as unpolitical as possible, which can be kind of hard these days,” she said. 

In January, a federal judge in New York ruled against the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, which the administration appealed. 

In February, the Supreme Court announced it would decide on the inclusion of the citizenship question on census questionnaires, with a hearing to be held in April. 

The Census Bureau begins printing questionnaires in June, and it’s expected the Supreme Court will make a decision ahead of the printing.

To be clear, Wood said, a census worker is not allowed to divulge any information collected, like citizenship answers, to anyone, including immigration authorities. However, she said, it’s hard to combat false information that spreads about the census. 

She added that census data is some of the most protected data — legally and physically — and that a census worker risks five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for sharing any collected census responses. 

 

 

How to get involved

Wood said that about a year from now, residents will begin receiving mailings to fill out their census questionnaire online, if they choose to do so. Traditional paper questionnaires will still be available. 

Following that, census workers will begin door-knocking in May to collect data from households that have yet to fill out questionnaires.

Wood said that as the county prepares for the census, it’s seeking community members to apply to become census counters for 2020, especially seeking those able to speak multiple languages. 

In Minnesota alone, she said, the Census Bureau estimates it will be looking for at least 40,000 census workers.

She said it’s a flexible job where people can take on as many or as few hours as fits their schedule. More information about census jobs can be found at www.2020census.gov/jobs.

Ramsey County and the City of St. Paul have also established a joint Complete Count Committee, which aims to make sure to count historically undercounted communities such as renters, immigrants, refugees, seniors, indigenous people, folks with low incomes, people experiencing homelessness and kids. 

Wood said there are six subcommittees right now that focus on renters, immigrants, people of color, education, businesses, and the homeless, with interest to start a senior-focused subcommittee as well. 

She said the count committee is still seeking residents to join to help come up with ways to reach each of the underrepresented communities. 

Those interested in joining can contact Wood at jolie.wood@ramseycounty.us or by calling 651-350-9796.

For more information about the census, go to www.ramseycounty.us/census.

 

–Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com.

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