Goodyear, Litchfield Park adjust Census 2020 outreach for COVID-19

Key dates shifted; last day of count moved to Aug. 14

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Goodyear’s Census 2020 Complete Count Committee prepared for more than a year for April 1 — National Census Day — the day communities across the nation planned to switch their outreach from simply letting residents know why participation in America’s biennial count is so important to actually helping them get counted.

The committee had a robust outreach plan ready to go: Digital media staff would continue sharing the city’s “iCount 2020 Goodyear, AZ Count Me In!” message on the city’s website and social media pages, while committee members would begin taking mobile devices issued by the U.S. Census Bureau to booths at crowded community events and Topics on the Move van stops at high-traffic shopping centers. Residents who hadn’t already filled out their questionnaires online could visit the booths or the van and use the mobile devices to be counted, get help filling out paper forms or pick up instructions for responding online at home.

“We’re really hoping to go to where the community is,” City Planner Christian M. Williams, a leader on the count committee, told Indpendent Newsmedia in early March.

It wasn’t to be. The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, which forced cancellation of large gatherings, closed stores and public buildings, and compelled federal, state, county and municipal officials across the U.S. to tell people to stay home to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, means no face-to-face contact for now.

That hasn’t curbed the committee’s enthusiasm for getting the word out, however.

“Census outreach is going strong, despite adjustments to the plan due to COVID-19. We are adapting, just as our community and nation are right now,” city spokeswoman Corrinne Holliday said via email April 1. “Making stops at popular spots with the TOM van is on hold in compliance with the governor’s stay-at-home orders and CDC guidelines. Instead, emphasis is on digital outreach and this week ,Goodyear residents will receive the April InFocus in the mail ,which provides important census information in one convenient place.”

InFocus is a monthly print and online magazine produced by Goodyear communications staff to keep residents informed about what’s going on in the city.

The census is mandated by the U.S. Constitution and has been every conducted 10 years since 1790, when 650 U.S. marshals carried out the first count. This year marks the first time people can fill out their census questionnaires online. They also can respond by mail or telephone.

“The online option provides a perfect opportunity to all residents to participate in a safe manner in the comforts of their home,” Ms. Holliday stated. “For those with limited or no internet availability, the phone provides another convenient way to participate. As of today, the city’s response rate is 41.6%, which is above the state average of 36.5%.”

Mr. Williams said the committee continues to be flexible, with members connecting with neighbors digitally.

“I even get texts from committee members with questions their neighbors have asked them,” he stated.

The city of Litchfield Park, which planned to conduct in-person outreach by handing out postcards with how-to instructions and talking to people at community events, also continued reaching out to residents on social media, and put up banners reminding people to Stand Up and Be Counted.

Why the count is important

The impact of an accurate census impacts nearly every aspect of life in America, including:

  • Congressional representation. A larger population may mean a larger voice in Congress. A fast-growing state like Arizona could pick up another seat in the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives based on the 2020 count.
  • States’ share of $675 billion in federal tax revenue distribution. Arizona receives $2,959 per person in federal dollars annually, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That money funds everything from Medicare and other healthcare programs for children and adults, to Head Start and school lunches, to road, highway and other infrastructure projects. For every Arizonan who isn’t uncounted, the state stands to lose $887 in federal funding, according to azcensus2020.gov, the state’s informational website on the 2020 Census. If just 1% of the state’s population is undercounted, Arizona would lose $62 million annually, for a total loss of $620 million through 2030, the website states.
  • Commerce. Businesses use the data collected to determine where to open new stores, restaurants, factories and offices, where to expand operations, where to recruit employees, and which products and services to offer.
  • Real estate. Developers use census data to decide where and what type of housing to build based on population count and community demographics.
  • Grassroots. Residents use census data to support community initiatives involving legislation, quality-of-life and consumer advocacy.

Arizona’s cities depend on population-based allocations from four state shared revenues (sales, income, vehicle license and gas taxes) to provide services like recreation programming, parks maintenance and development, police and fire, and street repairs and maintenance, among others. An accurate count ensures that each city receives its share of revenues.

Based on 2010 Census results, Goodyear receives $343 per person in state shared revenues annually, which equaled about $25.6 million in fiscal 2020, nearly a quarter of the city’s general fund budget. Litchfield Park receives $344 per person in state shared revenues, which equaled $1.878 million in FY2020, also a quarter of the city’s general fund budget.

Results of the 2020 Census could change cities’ annual per-person allocation, so an accurate count is critical.

The 2010 Census recorded Goodyear’s population as 65,275. In 2018, an estimated 82,835 people called the city home. City Manager Julie Arendall said in March that 2019 estimates put the population at just under 89,000.

“Census 2020 will confirm that,” she said.

The 2010 Census recorded Litchfield Park’s population as 5,476. The 2015 mid-decade count recorded the city’s population as 6,152, and in 2019, the population was estimated at 6,809. During a March interview at City Hall, Management Assistant Sonny Culbreth predicted the population will top 7,000.

“At $344 per person, that would be an additional $500,000,” in the city’s general fund budget annually, Assistant City Manager Matthew Williams said during the interview.

Who should be counted?

Everyone living in the residence as of April 1, whether they are the homeowner, renter or someone staying in the house temporarily, should be included when responders fill out census forms. Both Goodyear and Litchfield Park have many winter residents with homes in other states or countries. If they were here April 1, they should be counted here, officials said.

The 2020 Census questionnaire asks responders to report the number of people living in their household, permanently or temporarily, and whether they rent or own the home. It also asks for the names, ages, dates of birth, genders and race of those living in the household, and whether they are of Hispanic, Latin or Spanish origin. It does not ask for citizenship status. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June 2019 it was unconstitutional to include a citizenship question on the Census questionnaire.

Responses to the census are completely confidential. Under title 13 of the U.S. Code, the U.S. Census Bureau cannot share census data with any other person, organization, court, business or government agency.

The 2020 Census timeline

To help slow the spread of coronavirus, the Census Bureau suspended field operations for the two weeks prior to April 1, Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham stated in a news release. The move pushed key dates back two weeks, and shifted the final day of the count from July 31 to Aug. 14. Those key dates include:

March 12-20: Households received official Census Bureau mail with detailed information on how to respond to the 2020 Census online, by phone or by mail.

April 1: National Census Day, a reference date for the census, not a deadline. “We use this day to determine who is counted and where in the 2020 Census,” the bureau notes on its website. “When you respond, you’ll tell the Census Bureau where you live as of April 1, 2020, and include everyone who usually lives and sleeps in your home. You can respond before or after that date. We encourage you to respond as soon as you can.”

April 16-June 19: Census-takers will work with administrators at colleges, senior centers, prisons, and other facilities that house large groups of people to make sure everyone is counted.

April 23-May 18: Census-takers will count people staying at campgrounds, RV parks, marinas and hotels if they do not usually live elsewhere.

April 29-May 1: Census-takers will count people who are experiencing homelessness in shelters, at soup kitchens and mobile food vans, on the streets, and at nonsheltered, outdoor locations such as tent encampments.

May 27-Aug. 14: Census-takers will interview households that haven’t responded.

December: The Census Bureau will deliver apportionment counts to the president and Congress no later than Dec. 31, as required by law.

Residents can identify census-takers in their neighborhoods by their ID badge, which will include the worker’s name, photo, a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark and an expiration date. They also will carry a bag and a Census Bureau-issued electronic device, such as a laptop or smartphone, with the official census logo. If people have questions about a census-taker’s identity, they can call 800-923-8282 to speak with a local Census Bureau representative for verification.

Kelly O’Sullivan can be reached at kosullivan@newszap.com or 760-963-1697. For up-to-date local reporting on all things COVID-19, Independent Newsmedia has created a webpage dedicated to coverage of the novel coronavirus: #AZNEWSMEDIA

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