Workshop starts census outreach through faiths
As an initial part of The Fig Tree's outreach to congregations to be involved in the 2020 Census, Jim CastroLang, pastor of Colville First Congregational United Church of Christ and member of the Faith Action Network Board, led a workshop at the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference.
"Involvement of faith communities in the census is one way to work for justice," he said, "because so much is at stake in representation in government and funding programs serving the vulnerable."
He is program coordinator for The Fig Tree's effort to have congregations invite hard-to-reach communities to participate.
As part of the workshop, Alex Panagotacos, Spokane County Census Committee coordinator at Innovia Foundation, spoke of the importance of a fair and accurate count. The Constitution mandates a count of the population every 10 years.
In 2010, the Census Bureau hired 200 people to do partnership outreach in Washington State. This year, 20 are hired.
"There is a lot to lose in the coming census. Thankfully, the cities, county, Washington State Department of Transportation, Spokane Transit, the airport and Innovia Foundation stepped up to make sure Spokane County has support to provide a robust census outreach," said Alex, adding that Innovia has partnered with the Office of Financial Management and Washington Nonprofits to give grants for nonprofits to help.
Questions are like previous surveys asking for gender, race, ethnicity, age and number in households. It's only 10 questions, takes 10 minutes and has impact for the next 10 years, she said
This year letters—most in English, some in Spanish—go out March 12 to 20, inviting people to do the survey online, which may be a barrier to some, but paper forms are available, too. In May, there will be home visits to encourage participation.
For Washington, $13.7 billion is at stake, and $640 billion nationally, Alex said. That includes funds for Section 8 Housing, Head Start, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and more.
The count determines the number of representatives in Congress, state legislatures and city councils, and has impact on school district lines.
"In Eastern Washington, $3,000 per year per person is at stake to fund schools, roads, hospitals and housing," Alex said. "Everyone counts."
She said Title 13 protects people's data. The law prevents the Census Bureau from sharing information with anyone, she said. They cannot share with Homeland Security, ICE, landlords or anyone. Every Census Bureau employee takes an oath to protect the information. Once received, personal identity and demographic information are separated.
Communities that are hard to count include low income, racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ, non-English speakers, persons experiencing homelessness, undocumented immigrants, people who distrust the government, young children, mobile persons, persons with mental or physical disabilities, people not in traditional housing and people living in rural communities.
The Fig Tree is developing maps to relate locations of faith communities with hard-to-count areas, Jim said.
Panelists from hard-to-count groups shared their insights:
Sarah Dixit, senior field organizer with Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho (PPGWNI), talked of students reaching peers on college campuses.
Lucas Leek, who is transgender health and community coordinator at PPGWNI, told of fear of discrimination and difficulty filling out the form, which gives only two options for sex, M or F. While F is on Lucas' birth certificate, M is on Lucas' driver's license
Alex said that the Census Bureau will not compare responses, but "it's an understandable fear."
"There is a $100 fine if we do not fill out a survey, $500 for falsifying information and $5,000 for misrepresenting information," Lucas said.
Fernanda Mazot, who organizes with the Latino community with Raiz of PPGWNI, said 2.7 million African Americans and Latinos were undercounted in the 2010 census because many distrust the government.
Kimball Bighouse of the Kootenai Nation, employed by the Coeur d'Alene tribe, said tribes also distrust the government because of broken treaties and subjugation.
Because letters go to people with an address, not a PO box, it leaves out homeless people and people on reservations who do not have a street address, he said.
Even when census volunteers go door to door, they may miss people who are away.
Catholic Charities is helping count people in its housing projects.
"Faith communities may sign up to help count people in their neighborhoods and people receiving their services," Jim said. "We need to build trust, so we have an accurate count to make sure there are resources for everyone."
For information on the faith community outreach project, call Jim at 998-4203. To learn about the census, visit spokanecensus.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March, 2020