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‘Be counted’ is focus of census awareness campaign


With the allocation of $675 billion in federal funding based on results of the 2020 U.S. Census, local officials intend to educate the community on the importance of completing the form.

Sort of a “We’re counting on you to be counted” campaign.

“It’s so important to our community that everyone get counted,” said Todd Butler, president and CEO of Causewave Community Partners and a member of the Complete Count Committee’s media and marketing subcommittee.

Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, highway planning and construction, Section 8 housing vouchers and low-income housing loans are just a few of the scores of federal programs that rely on data derived from the census in order to determine how dollars are distributed to cities and states. The census also establishes how many seats each state has in the House of Representatives and defines congressional and state legislative districts.

Census officials are especially targeting those identified as hard-to-count sectors — African American males, Hispanic citizens, single parent heads of households, immigrants, refugees, noncitizens, those living in poverty, renters and residents age 65 and over.

“We need to reach out so they understand the importance to themselves and to the community,” Butler said.

Causewave will serve in a coordinating role for the marketing blitz. The nonprofit firm is dedicated to community issues and community causes. The census is one of the causes.

“States could lose federal representation, they could lose SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits,” Butler said. “Next year when we’re grumbling about a pothole on an interstate highway, it may have something to do with our area not being counted properly and we didn’t get the funding.”

A national campaign will launch soon, but Rochester was not selected as a target market. Thus, local officials have raised between $150,000 and $200,000 for a media-buy campaign, Butler said, to spread the word in Monroe County and beyond. Local influencers, people trusted by different segments of the population, will be featured, he said.

Educating the public about the census is a critical component of the early campaign. Residents, especially immigrants and noncitizens, must be assured that the census data is confidential and that the bureau cannot share any information with anyone, not even the FBI or ICE. The data remains private for 72 years.

Nationally there is concern that members of immigrant communities will be reluctant to participate, especially after publicity surrounding the Trump Administration’s attempt to have a citizenship question placed on the census form.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against inclusion of the question, but advocacy groups say publicity surrounding the Trump Administration plan caused uneasiness for immigrants, saying their answers could lead to increased scrutiny by immigration officials or the police, The Washington Post reported.

The awareness campaign starts in mid-February, a month or so before census forms are mailed between March 12 and 20.

“The goal is to do as much advance messaging so when the forms arrive in the mail, people will say, ‘Oh, yeah, this is that thing I was expecting,’ ” Butler said.

The census will be available in paper form, online, by phone and also eventually in person come mid-May, when census-takers hit the street to push to have nonparticipants be counted.

[email protected]/(585) 653-4020



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