By Beverly George
ACE Leader


On Sunday, October 20, 2019, ACE welcomed five panelists to discuss the upcoming census in 2020 who looked specifically at the challenges for the state, as well as local communities and nonprofits.

State Senator Laura Ellman explained why getting an accurate count on April 1 is important to the state. Illinois is expected to lose one of our current 18 representatives, but if there is an undercount in the census, the state could drop by two representatives to 16. From old census data, Illinois peaked in representation in 1860. In 2020, Sunbelt states like Texas (now with 36 reps) and Florida (having 27 reps) are expected to pick up more representatives. Illinois needs correct representation so we can have a strong voice for the Midwest.

A by-product of losing a representative is Illinois will have to redraw the district maps.

Using 2017 data, Illinois pays $4.6 billion more in federal income taxes than the state gets back from the federal government. You might think of it as Illinois netting -$4.6 billion. Along with Illinois, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York are the only other states that pay more in federal income tax dollars than they get back.

Neighboring Midwestern states deserve a closer look. Wisconsin gets back +$3.1 billion; Minnesota gets back +$5.3 billion; Iowa gets a return of +$3.4 billion; Indiana gets back +$15.7 billion; and Missouri has a net return of +$24 billion. To be clear, the plus signs indicate more money coming back to these states than they pay in federal income taxes.

Later in the program, Senator Ellman was asked why the surrounding states receive so much money back, while Illinois does not, to which she replied that the Illinois net -$4.6B reflects that Illinoisans have a higher average annual income that generates higher income taxes.

From the 2010 Census and the number of federal representatives, Illinois also has a higher population than these other states: Illinois has 18 reps; Wisconsin, Missouri, and Minnesota each have 8 reps; and Indiana has 9 reps.

Senator Ellman also noted that over 100 federal programs depend on the census count for operating funds. Twenty percent of federal funding goes to poverty-related programs, 14% goes to education, and 7% goes to infrastructure. Ellman stated that for her, what’s important for Illinois right now is getting federal money to care for our most vulnerable, to provide and fund quality public education at all levels, and to repair and improve state infrastructure. Education and infrastructure have to improve and keep growing so that Illinois becomes a stronger, more competitive state. A complete and accurate count in Illinois reaps a stronger Illinois for the next 10 years.

Dionne Roberts-Emegha, partnership coordinator for the Chicago Regional Census Bureau office, explained the Chicago census district services a huge region of eight states, including Arkansas, Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, Minnesota, and Indiana.

Census 2020 will be available for response online, by phone, or via a paper census form mailed back with USPS. Early in March 2020, postcards will be mailed with a note to respond to the census online beginning March 26. Those who don’t respond will get a follow-up visit from a census taker.

Census Bureau workers are already at work with advance check of habitable structures following the hurricanes, fires, or other natural disasters of the past few years. There is even a plan to account for new structures under construction and whether they will be complete and have residents prior to April 1.

Over 300,000 census workers are needed nationwide. While these jobs are temporary, the pay is very competitive. The Census Bureau prefers to hire local so that workers are familiar with the social culture of the community. Jobs vary but they can pay up to $25 per hour. Job applicants must be U.S. citizens, 18 years old, and have access to transportation.

Roberts-Emegha anticipates a lot of baseless rumors on social media to quell the count among immigrant groups. It will be important to have native speakers educating local immigrant groups to build trust that their data is secure and private with the bureau and not to be shared with other government agencies including local police, ICE, FBI, or the Department of Homeland Security.

Sadia Covert, chair of the DuPage County Complete Count Committee, discussed what the County Board is doing that local cities might not be addressing. DuPage County has formed a 35-member committee with members from diverse backgrounds and spoken languages to educate African Americans, Hispanics, and south Asian communities on the census. This population of immigrants might be worried about deportation following giving their census responses. Covert emphasized that speaking a common language is a big asset in building trust. DuPage County wants all population subgroups to understand the importance of the census and of having a complete count.

The county uses the census count to apply to the state for grants.

Yoselyn Ovalle, associate manager of the Democracy Initiative at Forefront, spoke about their work with organizations that serve immigrants across the state of Illinois and the efforts to gain their trust that census data will be secure and confidential.

Forefront is a statewide organization with 1,100 members, who are Illinois grantmakers and nonprofit organizations. In 2018, Forefront received anonymous funding for the Democracy Initiative, which has provided grants to 42 nonprofit organizations whose work addresses getting the Census 2020 or civic engagement with voter registration and education.

Ovalle reviewed the recent court history of the proposed citizenship question for the 2020 Census. After several court appeals, the question on citizenship will not be on the 2020 census. It was actually the deadline to print the census paperwork and postcards that drove the suit quickly to the Supreme Court for review and decision. Communicating that there is no citizenship question is a major part of their mission. Ovalle emphasized that it is ILLEGAL for the Census Bureau to disclose census responses to other government agencies; allow anyone outside of Census Bureau employees to see Census responses; or to use your census responses against you.

Forefront has a webinar on the resolution of the citizenship question and on the confidentiality and security of census responses from individuals.

I spoke for Scott Austgen, vice president of programs for DuPage PADS, who was unable to attend. This nonprofit organization has provided shelter services for DuPage County homeless for 34 years. Their initial work with one employee, 100 volunteers, and 120 clients 34 years ago, has grown to a service center in Wheaton with hundreds of volunteers and 30 shelter sites, which assist about 1,200 clients. Services include job searches and finding HUD housing for the chronically homeless. A “chronically homeless” individual is defined as one who has been homeless for over a year and is physically or mentally challenged.

The homeless population is mobile, that is, they shelter in different PADS facilities on different nights, so the problem addressed at the October ACE meeting was how to count this population accurately. PADS clients are entered into a database when they enter the program to seek shelter (or other services) from the organization. They have an ID card to use when checking into a shelter on a given night, so that’s a way to include them in the count.

In the next few weeks, PADS workers must educate and brand the census to their clients by going to shelters to explain and sell it. PADS wants their clients to realize their census count will pay it forward to others in need for the next 10 years. Plans are in the works to take the census on April 1, 2020.

Mark Rice, volunteer liaison of the Complete Count Committee of the City of Naperville, began by discussing the census kick-off on September 4, 2019, at the Municipal Center for over 50 local organizations.

Rice reported that 95% of Naperville is counted fairly easily. However it is the remaining 5% that is challenging for organizations to count. He noted that $1.2 billion of Medicaid for Illinois comes from the overall state count. Local agencies like Loaves & Fishes, School Districts 203 and 204, and the public libraries will work together to count homeless students and their families.

Locally, the City of Naperville, the police and fire departments, the public libraries, and School Districts 203 and 204 will all benefit from a Complete Census Count.

Talk up the Census 2020 to your friends and neighbors. It’s coming on April 1, 2020, and we need to “count everyone because everyone counts.”

ACE Leader Beverly George also is a member of Indivisible, the Naperville League of Women Voters, and the Citizens Climate Lobby. She also volunteers with her parish PADS group. A former chemist, George worked in clinical chemistry and hematology research at the Centers for Disease Control for six years and taught chemistry and freshman science at Naperville North High School for 20 years.