By Patrick Forrest
With the U.S. 2020 Census count in full swing, Blacks have control over the money that enters our community in federal funding. That funding will go to hospitals, fire departments, schools, roads, and other resources based on data collected during the census.
Consequently, the Black community in Cook County—which numbered about 1.3 million in 2018—is an important part of the data collection locally. In a recent survey nearly half of Chicago’s 2.7 million residents are considered “hard-to-count” in other ways noted by the U.S. Census Bureau. This includes families of color, children under five, the elderly, veterans, returning residents, individuals with high rates of mobility and housing instability, residents with disabilities, those with limited access to the Internet, and those who may be hesitant to participate.
“Achieving a full and fair count in the upcoming census is critical to determining the necessary federal funding levels for our city, appropriate representation in Congress, and securing the continued strength of our regional economy,” said Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
In the mayor’s efforts to lead a full and fair count throughout the city, she earlier this year announced $700,000 in grant funding to 32 community-based organizations that will support the efforts of engaging citizens around the 2020 census. The city contributed $500,000 toward the effort, with Uber, the Illinois Department of Aging and the McCormick Foundation also contributing to the grants. “These grants stand as a vital tool to supporting Chicago’s many passionate and committed community partners who will be on the ground and working hard to include all our residents in this important process, and ensuring every voice is heard, felt and accounted for.”
Forefront is an Illinois statewide association that represents both grant makers and nonprofits. The organization is involved in making sure that community members are aware of and are participating in completing the census. “It has been an honor to work closely with Mayor Lightfoot’s team and the city of Chicago to ensure these funds support communities not yet reached through our statewide “Illinois Count Me In 2020” Funders’ Collaborative, state funding, or funding from Cook County,” said Forefront President and CEO Eric Weinheimer. “These grantees have demonstrated a clear commitment to educating and activating their communities around a complete count. Forefront looks forward to supporting these grantees as we prepare for Illinois’ census count this spring.”
Closer to home, an accurate count is vital for Chicago as it determines whether the city receives an appropriate level of representation in Congress, as well as the funding that is instrumental in maintaining infrastructure, public safety, public health, and other city services. The data is used to determine how hundreds of billions of dollars in public funds are allocated to the nation’s communities over the next 10 years. Medicaid, Head Start, SNAP, Section 8, Title I and Special Education Grants are examples of how this funding is spent.
In 2010, under Mayor Rahm Emanuel, only two-thirds or 66 percent of Chicagoans participated in the census. This year, Mayor Lightfoot has set a goal of 75 percent participation to ensure every Chicagoan is counted and that they feel safe participating.
“A complete and accurate count in the upcoming census is vital for Chicago’s future,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “From the beginning, we made it clear that the city’s mobilization efforts would require coordination and partnership with Chicago’s corporate, philanthropic and community organizations, which is why we are grateful Uber will help ensure all our residents are counted.”
Chicago stands to lose $1,400 each year for every resident missed in 2020, with other adverse implications in redistricting. This startling fact led congressional members like Robin Kelly, whose district includes parts of south suburban Chicago, to previously hold townhall meetings in the time leading up to the once-in-a-decade count—this was before the Coronavirus made social distancing necessary.
“It’s up to us elected officials to make sure everyone understands just how important this is,” Kelly said. “We all must work together on this, because this is how we get the funds for our communities to fix the issues we were elected to handle.”
The congressional leadership shown by Kelly and her office will be important, as a study released by the Center on Poverty and Equality at Georgetown Law School showed how census data impacts how more than an estimated $430 billion would be spent on programs that benefit a great percentage of African American children and adults.