Why the Census counts

By Julia Alvarez, JVA research associate

On January 8, the Denver Office of Strategic Partnerships hosted a workshop entitled, “Why the Census Counts: Nonprofits and the U.S. Census,” to educate and inform members of the nonprofit community about the importance of the upcoming 2010 Census and the myriad ways it will affect the sector and the population as a whole. Speakers from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, The Denver Foundation, the Colorado Nonprofit Association and Nonprofits Count joined presenters from other notable nonprofits in the metro area to share their knowledge with participants.

We learned that in Denver alone, $7.4 million in federal funding was lost in the last 10 years because 9,000 people went uncounted in the 2000 Census, costing Denver more than $825 per person in federal funding, per year, for each of the 10 years that followed. In 2009, this equated to $435 billion in federal funding. The majority of this funding is used for programs directly impacting many nonprofits and their constituents. For example, four of the federal programs receiving the highest funding last year were medical assistance programs (almost $2 billion), Section 8 housing vouchers ($210 million), Head Start programs ($193 million) and special education grants ($144 million). Mayor John Hickenlooper and his Census team could not say enough about the importance of the 2010 U.S. Census and the role they expect nonprofit organizations to play.

So you may be asking yourself, “What can MY organization do?”

In past years, the Census Bureau has relied on individuals who were willing to walk door–to–door after April 1 (Census day) to collect Census forms. This year, however, the bureau is shifting its focus and hopes to encourage more people to complete and mail their Census forms on time. In fact, the city of Denver hopes to increase its response rate from 70 percent to 80 percent in this year’s Census. To do this, it is relying on nonprofits and other community-based organizations to help. The Census Bureau recognizes the power of a trusted community voice and hopes that by engaging the nonprofit community, members of “hard to count populations” will participate in greater numbers. These hard to count communities include immigrants, refugees, children, older adults, persons who are disabled and those living in institutional settings (prisons, hospitals and even colleges and universities).

The Census Bureau is counting on its nonprofit partners to help ensure that every person living in the U.S is counted. The message is that the Census is IMPORTANT, it is SAFE and it is IN OUR HANDS.

The 2010 Census has the potential to create positive change for communities all over the U.S., and without the help and support of nonprofits and other trusted community voices, billions of dollars are at stake. The Census form takes 10 minutes to complete and the state of Colorado will earn $8,250 over 10 years for each person counted. When in your life have you been given the opportunity to earn $8,250 in 10 minutes?

The Denver Office of Strategic Partnerships, along with the U.S. Census Bureau, has created a Census Toolkit for Nonprofits, available on the resources page on its Web site: http://www.denvergov.org/Census2010. This toolkit will assist you in figuring out how to best engage your constituents and how to spread the word about the importance of the Census. In addition, the Census Bureau has created numerous toolkits to help organizations reach and target special populations, including immigrants, migrant workers, faith-based communities, older adults/retirees and people with disabilities. These toolkits can be found online at http://2010.census.gov/partners/toolkits.

Are you interested in knowing how to use Census data and other demographic information in your programming? Curious to know if your programs are reaching the right population? Let JVA help! We are facilitating a training on January 27 called How to do a Grassroots Community Assessment that will help you figure out how to gauge and engage your constituents. For more information, visit http://www.jvaconsulting.com/training.

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