Ensuring a complete count
By Josh Curtis, AAC Government Affairs Director
These days, it seems as if nearly every task can be done online. Grocery orders can be placed with the click of a button. Bills can be paid on mobile apps. Patients can receive prescriptions after video appointments with their healthcare providers. Next April, for the first time ever, the U.S. Census will even be completed online.
Arkansas currently ranks 48th in the U.S. for Internet coverage. Approximately 30 percent of our state’s residents don’t have Internet access or only have dial-up Internet available. If not addressed, this connectivity barrier — along with existing transportation and communications challenges, particularly in our rural and immigrant communities — could have long-term ramifications on our state in next year’s census.
Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a survey to count everyone residing in the 50 states, Puerto Rico and island areas of the U.S. This population total is then used to determine how much funding our communities receive for education, healthcare, infrastructure and other essential services. As Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently noted, “An undercount of even one percent could cost Arkansas $990 million over the next decade.”
That’s why it’s important we take steps now to ensure an accurate and complete count in 2020. Last year, Arkansas Impact Philanthropy, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, Arkansas Public Policy Panel, and Arkansas United launched Arkansas Counts. The goal: to ensure a complete and accurate count for Arkansas in the U.S. Census, with a focus on hard-to-count communities, including those areas with low-income, rural or immigrant populations. To further encourage and empower all Arkansas residents to participate in next year’s census, Governor Hutchison recently unveiled his Complete Count Committee. This committee includes multiple stakeholder groups. Baxter County Judge Mickey Pendergrass sits on the panel.
“It is crucial to the state and our counties to have an accurate count to reflect the needs of all Arkansans,” Pendergrass said.
On the county and district level, how can we build on the efforts of Arkansas Counts and the Governor’s Complete Count Committee to ensure our communities receive the federal funding they need? The Association of Arkansas Counties urges you to use your voices, as well as your communication channels, to encourage all your residents to participate in the census.
Before the 2020 U.S. Census on April 1, we urge you to:
Establish a broad and diverse local Complete Count Committee to help develop an action plan for your county or district, which includes elected officials, educators, employers and civic and faith leaders.
Develop and implement activities for county or district employees to drive awareness of and involvement in the upcoming census.
Focus on hard-to-count communities by recruiting trusted ambassadors from your county or district to conduct ongoing outreach.
Provide regular information to residents about federally funded programs that benefit the county and district to reinforce the importance of census participation.
Encourage your residents to apply for U.S. Census field jobs at 2020census.gov/jobs.
Participate in the New Construction Program to update the U.S. Census Bureau’s residential address list for construction properties in your community that will be completed by April 1, 2020.
Meet with U.S. Census officials or partnership specialists from a field, area or national office.
Install and actively promote “accessibility spots” to provide secure, online computer access in county or district buildings (e.g., libraries, workforce development centers), with easy-to-read and understandable signage about the census in highly visible or high-traffic areas.
Leverage all existing county or district communication channels, including social media accounts, to share information about the census.
Hold a public event to promote civic engagement and census participation.
Sponsor census booths at county or district events.
Incorporate messages about the importance of the census into speeches, public gatherings, county-wide meetings, mailings, bills or other notifications.
Continue to combat misinformation and scams, including providing safety tips from the U.S. Census Bureau, to ensure residents receive accurate information about the survey.
If available, place public service announcements in local media outlets to encourage all residents to respond.
There’s a lot at stake in the 2020 U.S. Census. As one report recently stated, “We only have one shot every 10 years to get the census right.” Help the Association of Arkansas Counties get out the count by visiting arcounts.org or following @ARcensus2020 on Facebook and @ar_census on Twitter for additional resources. By working together, we can ensure our counties and districts receive the federal funding they need to thrive.