‘Everyone counts’ in next year’s census
The only way to ensure an accurate count for next year’s U.S. census is to take control on a local level and employ a unified approach with area community groups and governments, Aspen City Council members agreed Tuesday.
Council members were updated during a work session on the city and Pitkin County’s efforts by Phillip Supino, the city’s principal long-range planner who serves on the state’s Colorado Complete Count Campaign committee, and Kara Silbernagel, assistant to the county manager.
Having an accurate number of residents in Pitkin County is important for a multitude of reasons, particularly because federal and state dollars allocated to local communities is based on population, Supino said.
He told council that city officials estimate between 1 and 3 percent of Pitkin County was undercounted in the 2010 census, leading to an estimated $400,000 annually that was not distributed back to the community.
“That is a substantial undercount … with a population of 17,000,” Supino said, adding that without local efforts, the undercount could be much higher in 2020.
The state estimates that each person counted represents $2,300 annually in federal, state and local dollars. In Pitkin County, that is approximately $41 million annually.
The money supports everything from funding for roads to health and human services to other government offerings that total 2,500 federal programs, according to Supino.
He also noted that congressional redistricting is based on population, so having adequate representation is based on accurate census data.
But because next year’s effort is underfunded on a federal level, state and local governments are taking it upon themselves to lead the effort through “local complete count campaigns.”
Local efforts the rest of the year include developing outreach and education campaigns, collaborating with valley partners, building a Roaring Fork Valley Complete Count Committee, assessing and strategizing to overcome obstacles to achieve a complete count and finding resources for staffing to carry out those goals.
The U.S. Census occurs every 10 years and is constitutionally mandated. It’s about counting households; people living in residential structures.
So in an effort to count every resident, the city, Pitkin County and Snowmass Village are collaborating on a yearlong census support campaign in coordination with the state of Colorado and the U.S. Census.
While there was adequate funding for the 2010 census, money for outreach and workers has been severely reduced, making it even more critical to get a full count, according to Supino.
The city already has put in $15,000, which went to research and planning.
Pitkin County allocated $15,000 in its 2019 budget to develop an outreach strategy and encourage participation.
Supino said the city, county and Snowmass plan to work with downvalley communities and non-governmental groups to spread the census tentacles as far as possible to find hard-to-reach residents.
Working with other communities ensures “we are directing resources and our efforts in as efficient a way as possible,” Supino told council.
This census also marks the first time it will be conducted online, which could pose challenges for those who don’t have access to the internet.
Although Census Day is April 1, 2020, individuals will be able to complete the census beginning March 19, 2020.
Additionally, the census will occur in the middle of the presidential primaries, so a local campaign to get the message out is crucial given the changes and competing interests happening, Supino pointed out.
“The goal is to reduce the undercount,” he said.
Council members said they were supportive of the city’s partnership with the county and Snowmass and the overall effort.
“It’s an important thing to do,” Councilman Adam Frisch said.
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