Before the coronavirus pandemic, nonprofits had big plans to encourage Idahoans to fill out the 2020 census. Across the state, face-to-face events were scheduled to educate people about the importance of filling out the form and to help them complete it in person. But the stay-at-home order hindered many of those efforts.
Tammy Davis, the executive director of the Crisis Hotline in Ketchum, said filling out the census took a backseat for some people during the onset of the pandemic, including for the U.S. Census Bureau’s “hard to count” populations such as undocumented immigrants, non-English speakers and people experiencing homelessness.
“You start thinking about priorities — food and roof over your head,” Davis said.
Some groups moved forward with online outreach this spring. Contamos Idaho Census has been targeting radio campaigns and videos to the state’s Latino community.
And while COVID-19 made establishing trust in the governmental procedure more challenging with the cancelling of face-to-face gatherings, it also revealed the importance of the once-per-decade effort to Antonio Hernandez, voting rights associate at the Conservation Voters for Idaho and founder of Contamos.
“The pandemic has highlighted the inequities inherent in our local communities and just how important a complete count will be to ensuring Idaho receives the proper funds for recovery efforts for the next 10 years,” Hernandez wrote in a press release.
In Blaine County, the Crisis Hotline began in-person outreach efforts in May, focused on assisting people struggling during the pandemic. Each Sunday they set up somewhere in the valley, handing out family care packages with activities for children and helping people access health information and mental health services.
Soon after they started, Davis saw the events as opportunities to reach people who might’ve forgotten about the census. Now, the organizers bring along census information, as well as computers for people to fill it out right at that moment.
So far, Blaine County has a low census response rate; a quarter of the population has filled it out. Overall, Idaho’s rate of 62% statewide is slightly above the national average. Ada County leads the state with three-quarters of the population having completed the form and Camas County has the lowest rate in the state at 8%.
Some U.S. House Democrats are pushing for Congress to extend the Census Bureau’s end-of-year deadline to deliver its results, as many of the agency’s own outreach efforts, including home deliveries and door knocking were delayed. Boise was one of the first locations the bureau resumed limited field operations in early May.
Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen
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