Governor hits road to push census
SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. J.B. Pritzker encouraged Illinoisans to complete the 2020 census and touted a state investment in youth employment programs Thursday during two public appearances in Rockford.
The state has a 66.9 percent census self-response rate currently. That's nearly 5 percentage points better than the 62.1 percent national rate, but well below the state's 2010 final self-reporting tally of 70.5 percent. In 2000, the self-response rate in Illinois was 69 percent.
Pritzker's message at the Rockford City Market was that filling out the census is "an act of civic engagement" that has a direct effect on the amount of federal funding the state receives. In turn, an undercount often disproportionately impacts the neediest communities in the state, which typically have lower response rates.
"The same ZIP codes that are impacted the worst by COVID-19 -- those that have been hurting for generations -- are on track to be the most undercounted at a time when frankly we need full funding," he said.
A 1 percent undercount for the state could result in it losing $195 million per year in federal funding for the next decade, Pritzker said. That equates to about $1,500 per year in federal funding lost for each person not counted in the census.
Based upon the 2010 count, the state collects $34 billion in federal funds annually, the governor added.
This year's numbers have Illinois tied with Virginia for seventh among all states. The response portal will be open until Oct. 31 due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pritzker signed an executive order last year dedicating $29 million to the census outreach effort through the Illinois Department of Human Services.
The outreach is done through a "hub and spoke" model in which funding passes through IDHS to 31 intermediary organizations that lead outreach efforts in 12 regions of the state. Those organizations partner with other community groups to target outreach at a hyperlocal level.
"We're working with trusted messengers and grassroots community organizations to focus on personalized targeted outreach groups," Pritzker said.
While the governor said the census has historically "not been an accessible tool," leaving "too many people locked out and left behind," he pointed out that there is no citizenship question on the census form and organizers are doing all they can to make communities that are fearful of such a question comfortable in filling out the form.
"It's been incredibly uplifting and inspiring to see so many Illinoisans taking to the streets to demand justice, so I need everyone to know, filling out the census is an act of engagement," he said.
In May, however, some of those census community organizers told Capitol News Illinois their outreach efforts have been stymied by the pandemic and associated stay-at-home orders.
Youth Employment Program
Earlier Thursday, Pritzker spoke at the Lockwood Park equestrian center and children's farm to tout a COVID-19 Summer Youth Employment Program. The state dedicated $9.3 million through the Illinois Department of Human Services to support the program to employ 2,400 young adults statewide between June and August 2020, helping them train for and find work.
The program is geared toward low-income youth who live in high-poverty communities and counties hardest hit by the pandemic. Job opportunities through the program are coordinated by community-based organizations in partnership with IDHS.
"COVID-19 has completely turned the working world on its head -- but young people still deserve a chance to start building their future. In fact, it's more important than ever to ensure the most vulnerable among us don't slip through the cracks," Pritzker said. "That's why last month, my administration announced a redesigned $9.3 million COVID-19 Summer Youth Employment Program, supporting dozens of projects across some of the counties hit hardest by the pandemic -- projects that, across the board, will employ thousands of young people in need of an opportunity."
Pritzker was also asked about the progress on a Rockford casino, and said while he does not have an exact date as to when the Illinois Gaming Board will sign off on applications from potential casino operators, he is hopeful it occurs "certainly over the next couple of months." He said it must be done by October, per the law's deadlines.
The governor said the Gaming Board was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, just like everything else. Now that it is back at work, it's dealt with a number of backlogged issues. It's important, he said, because revenues from the gambling expansion bill passed last year are to fund infrastructure programs throughout the state.
"(IGB) just got up and running the sports wagering in the state,… a difficult thing to get done but they did, and expanded video gaming terminals in the state, another part of our capital program," he said. "And then of course, we want very badly to make sure that our casinos get up and running. It's economic development, its job creation, it's opportunity. And of course, it's also revenue for the capital projects that we so badly need."
The board operates independently, he said, and a major focus is ensuring there is no corruption in the licensing process.