How Elgin hopes to reach 'hard-to-count groups' in 2020 census

The city of Elgin and Gail Borden Public Library are launching a “2020 Elgin Complete Count” effort next week, including a focus on reaching groups most at risk for undercounting, such as young children and foreign-born residents.

Laura Valdez, Elgin's assistant city manager, and Denise Raleigh, who oversees public relations/communications for the library, co-chair the initiative, whose goal is create a network of people to spread the word and ensure participation for an accurate count of the entire community.

“We want to make sure we have the right messengers,” such as faith-based organizations and nonprofits, “to reach these hard-to-count groups ... so we can ensure accurate information and we can build awareness and trust,” Valdez said.

The library received approval for a $40,000 grant from the Chicago nonprofit Forefront and a $148,490 grant from the Illinois Secretary of State to fund the census count effort, Raleigh said.

The city might contribute some money for specific initiatives, Valdez said.

The money will be used to: hire part-time staff; buy tablets so residents can fill out online census forms; print materials, translations, flyers, yard signs and T-shirts; provide media advertisement including in Spanish, Pace buses and billboards; and boost Facebook messaging, Raleigh said.

The initiative includes a mayor's advisory committee with 17 members and several subcommittees, and more than 50 partners, such as Elgin and Hanover townships, Amita St. Joseph and Advocate Sherman hospitals, Centro de Informacion and Elgin Community College.

Federal funds totaling $675 billion per year for everything from hospitals to roads are distributed to local communities based on population totals and breakdowns by sex, age, race and other factors, the U.S. Census says.

The 2010 Census showed Elgin had 108,188 residents; estimates for 2018 put the city's population at 111,683.

The Kane County Board recently received information from the Illinois Complete Count Commission and the U.S. Census Bureau showing a potential 97,901 individuals, or 19% of the county's population, were not counted in 2010, with a potential loss of $176 million per year since 2010, county board member Mo Iqbal said.

“The complete count is about money and power — without a complete count we lose both the federal tax dollars, and the representation in the congress and electoral college,” he said.

In 2010, kids under age 5 were undercounted by 4.6%. Elgin Area School District U-46 plans to implement a “multimedia interactive communication plan” with posters, videos and more, and school leadership and staff members will encourage students and families to be counted, spokeswoman Mary Fergus said.

By law, census information is confidential and not shared with anyone, including federal, state and local agencies. Still, immigrant communities can be reluctant to participate, particularly in the wake of President Donald Trump's controversial attempt to add a citizenship question to the census, Raleigh said. That was stopped in June by the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Our message is about trust,” Raleigh said.

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