Counting Hoosiers in the new normal


The South Bend Tribune

In normal times, trying to persuade everyone to stand up and be counted in the once-in-a-decade census presents a challenge.

But these are not normal times. And in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, that challenge is multiplied, particularly when it comes to reaching certain hard-to-count groups.

The need for social distancing and stay-at-home orders means that going door-to-door simply isn’t an option. The U.S. Census Bureau has suspended all in-person census surveys. All of this has forced officials to look to other ways of doing things.

Locally, the city of South Bend and St. Joseph County Public Library unveiled a new outreach effort last week. Fourteen local nonprofits and institutions were tapped to join a group called South Bend Census Champions. Each received a $2,500 award from the city to buy equipment, upgrade internet access, and support staff and volunteer outreach efforts. Outreach will focus on telephone and online contact throughout April and May.

The agencies chosen are in or near areas that had a less than 73% response rate in the 2010 census, earning them a classification as “hard-to-count” tracts on the city’s northwest, west and south sides.

The city also is launching a series of public service announcements highlighting the local campaign.

Such adjustments are necessary, because something that hasn’t changed is the importance of getting an accurate count.

The information collected in the census is used by the federal government to determine how to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars — toward Medicaid, food stamps, highway projects and other programs. The Indianapolis Business Journal has noted that nearly $18 billion is on the line for Indiana, which is how much in annual federal funding the state receives based on population data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

It’s estimated that for every person missed in the count, Indiana will lose about $10,000 in federal funds over the next decade.

By last week’s National Census Day, forty-two percent of Indiana residents had responded, 36% of them online. That’s better than the national average— but there’s still a long way to go

With so much at stake, it’s critical that Indiana residents participate in the census, which is still taking place online and over the phone.

It’s critical that every Hoosier be counted.

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