By Chris Breach and Jeff Bonty
Why should I complete the census questionnaire? Because it matters to your community, your school and your local government. That’s the message local officials are trying to get out.
“I hope people take this census stuff serious,” said Bourbonnais Mayor Paul Schore at a village board meeting.
According to the Census Bureau, the census provides vital information to residents and their communities. It determines how many representatives each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives and is used to redraw district boundaries.
Communities rely on census statistics to plan for a number of resident needs, including new roads, schools and emergency services. Also, businesses use census data to determine where to locate.
Kankakee Mayor Chasity Wells-Armstrong said the census is extremely important.
“An accurate count will influence our representation at the various levels of government,” she said in an email. “We want to make sure we have adequate representatives who can speak to our specific issues as Illinoisans.
“Also, an accurate count directly impacts our funding. For every person that is not counted but relies on services as all Illinoisans do, those dollars are magnified over 10 years until the next census count.”
Local residents will begin receiving notifications March 12 from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“I encourage residents to not throw away this information they will be receiving,” Schore said.
The Census Bureau has implemented new technology for this census to make it easier than ever to respond to the census, according to 2020Census.gov. For the first time, residents can respond online, by phone as well as by mail.
U.S. Rep Robin Kelly, D-Matteson, said census results are used to distribute more than $675 billion in federal funds every year.
“If there’s a major undercount, Illinois could lose up to $1 billion in federal dollars,” Kelly said. “To put it another way, we will lose $1,400 per person, per year for every person not counted in the 2020 Census. That means funding cuts for Medicaid, student loans, food stamps, highways and more than 100 critical programs across the state.”
Manteno mayor Tim Nugent, who is also president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County, echoed that sentiment.
“It has a huge impact because of the monies we receive and determines the amount of services we can provide,” he said.
Nugent also wanted to allay any fears residents might have in questioning the reasons for the census, especially when it comes to immigration.
“The census just want to count the number of people and not for other purposes,” he said. “It’s just a dollars and cents of what we’re going to get back for the next several years.”
The U.S. Census Bureau says it’s the largest statistical agency in the federal government, and it is dedicated to providing current facts and figures about the country’s people, places and economy. Federal law protects the confidentiality of all the individual responses the bureau collects, according the bureau.
Gail Schultz, a records clerk for the Village of Bradley, is part of a Complete Count Committee aimed at helping educate residents about the census.
“To this point, our committee has been focusing on just getting the word out on census jobs and repeating the phrase 2020 Census,” she said. “Now we will be moving into encouraging participation. I think we’ve been doing a decent job of getting the word out but there’s more to be done.”
Wells-Armstrong said Kankakee is working to put together a census awareness event and has already reached out to community partners to bring awareness to the census.
“Additionally, the city is seeking ways to make completing the census easy for our residents,” she said. “The census can be completed on paper, online or by phone, so we will encourage as much self-reporting as possible.”
The U.S. Constitution requires that a census is taken each decade for a count of America’s population.
“The numbers you get are the numbers you live with for the next 10 years,” Schore said.
Hopkins Park Mayor Mark Hodge knows the upcoming 2020 Census is vital for his village and Pembroke Township as a whole.
“We definitely are trying to get the word out,” Hodge said. “We need to have every man, woman and child counted. This helps with infrastructure and many other areas.
“We need every dollar we can get,” he said, referring to federal funding allocation which is determined in part by results of the U.S. Census.
Based on the latest census estimates (for 2014-2018), 1,784 people live in 715 households in the tract (count area) that includes Hopkins Park and Pembroke Township. Based on the 2010 Census, this area is considered one of the hardest areas to count in the U.S.
According to Census Bureau data from 2010, only 68.4 percent of the tract’s households mailed back their 2010 census questionnaire, requiring more costly and more difficult in-person follow up to count the remaining 31.6 percent.
They are predicting the area will provide another low response score for the 2020 Census. They are looking at 30.1 percent, which means 69.9 percent of this tract’s households are projected to fill out the 2020 Census questionnaire on their own.
When mailers are sent out in the coming days, 94.5 percent of the houses in the tract will receive a letter, the another 5.5 percent will be hand delivered.
The city of Kankakee has a pocket the Census Bureau deems hard to count. Its borders are East Merchant Street on the north, East Maple Street on the south, South Evergreen Avenue on the west and South Sibley Avenue on the east.
In the 2010 Census, this area and the tract it is located in had only 63.2 percent of households mail back their questionnaire. This tract is also considered one of the hardest to count in the country.
Another hard to count pocket in the county includes an area in Bourbonnais near the campus of Olivet Nazarene University. It is an area of apartments that the university bought and uses for student housing.
While it is considered a hard count area, Bourbonnais Mayor Paul Schore said the village and Olivet officials work together to get the people counted.
“The university did a very good job with the  Census. We will be in touch with them again,” Schore said.
Three town hall meetings are set for next week to address issues, concerns and reasons associated with the proposed expansion of the Kankakee River Conservancy District.
A referendum is on the March 17 ballot for Kankakee County voters who live within 1 to 2 miles of the river. If approved, those residents would begin paying an additional property tax. The tax is already being paid by residents within the current district, which exists along 8 miles of the river between the Indiana-Illinois state line and Momence.
That tax rate is .07552 per $100 of assessed valuation.
According to the Kankakee County Clerk’s office, about 24,000 of the county’s 66,000 registered voters will be eligible to vote for or against the referendum in primary election. If approved, the district would travel along the approximate 45 miles the Kankakee River flows through the county.
If approved, the property tax would generate about $450,000 annually and cost the owner of a house valued at $100,000 about $24 a year.
The goal behind expanding the taxing district is to generate money to begin dealing with the ever-growing flooding issues connected to the river, Andy Wheeler said. Wheeler is the Kankakee County Board chairman, but the referendum is not a county initiative. The referendum is the being pursued by a group of citizens.
The money is largely being eyed for local matching funds needed to help secure state or federal grants, Wheeler has stated previously.
The first town hall meeting, hosted by Wheeler, will be 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Kankakee Boat Club, 1586 Cobb Boulevard, Kankakee.
The second town hall, hosted by Kankakee County Board members Colton Ekhoff and Tinker Parker, will 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Momence City Hall, 29 N. Dixie Highway, Momence.
The third town hall, hosted by Aroma Park Mayor Brian Stump, will be 6 p.m. Thursday at the Aroma Park Boat Club, 199 Board Club Road, Aroma Park.
Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect the correct date of the event.
KANKAKEE — Parents can learn about the warning signs of teenagers at risk of suicide at the More Than Sad talk from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, March 19, at Kankakee Public Library.
Project SUN of Kankakee is hosting the talk as part of its Parent Café series. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention created the More Than Sad program.
Mariah Garratt, community navigator with Project SUN, said the organization aims to host a parent-focused talk on a different topic surrounding child mental health at the Kankakee library every month.
“We exist to help parents be educated on mental health, find resources and have an advocate,” she said.
This month’s talk will focus on helping parents recognize signs of depression in teenagers so they can help them to find the right treatment, Garratt said.
“The goal is getting parents to identify the difference between general teen behavior and signs of struggling, to then have better conversations with the teen,” she said.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death of children between the ages of 15 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The main causes for suicide are depression, anxiety, other mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, and drug and alcohol use, according to the CDC.
In Kankakee County, 18 people committed suicide last year, according to the coroner’s office.
“Knowing when this [behavior] is a warning sign is huge,” Garratt said.
Garratt said the More Than Sad program is targeted to parents of teenagers, but other community members are welcome as well, including teachers, grandparents and caregivers. Parents are advised that topics discussed may be heavy for children.
Anne King and Jennifer Arreola from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will be giving the presentation. Project SUN members will also talk about the group’s mission in the community and resources that are available.
The talk is free, but attendees are asked to RSVP by Wednesday by emailing Augustina Rios at email@example.com or calling the Project SUN office at 815-304-5933.
Parent Cafés are hosted monthly in the Kankakee Public Library’s fourth-floor auditorium.