CHICAGO — There’s a lot at stake in next year’s U.S. Census, including congressional seats and billions of dollars in federal funding, according to experts in Illinois who are pushing to educate the public about the importance of the count.
An analysis by George Washington University’s Institute of Public Policy found that at least $34 billion in federal funding for programs that directly assist Illinois residents is tied to census figures, The Chicago Tribune reported.
The state also could lose up to two congressional seats if the upcoming count finds a population loss, according to a report by the Illinois Complete Count Commission, which was formed in 2017 to help educate communities, organizations and residents about the importance of the census.
Concerns about data privacy and distrust in the government are the main factors that keep people from participating in the census, according to the census bureau.
Jay Young, of the watchdog group Common Cause Illinois, said he’s also concerned about reaching populations that typically don’t participate in the census, such as African-Americans and rural communities.
“I’m worried that not enough thinking is being done for folks outside of the city,” Young said.
The commission is working with various state agencies to educate the public about how census figures influence things including road construction and social services, said Jeanine Stroger, the commission’s designated chair.
“Those kinds of decisions are based on census data and that’s why it’s so crucial to have an accurate and complete count,” Stroger said.
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who leads the commission, has launched a grant program to encourage participation in the April 1, 2020, Census. Forefront, a statewide coalition of nonprofits, is also working to fundraise for census outreach initiatives.
Forefront is using different outreach strategies for specific communities, since some groups may respond better on social media, while other will respond more to in-person interactions, said Anita Banerji, the director of the democracy initiative for Forefront.
Forefront also supports a Senate bill in the Illinois General Assembly that seeks to give the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity $25 million to distribute as census outreach grants.
Various reports have determined Illinois’ population loss is among the worst in the nation in recent years, with the population declining in five consecutive years from 2014-2018.