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Aspen, Snowmass face being undercounted in 2020 census

Local Census 2020 officials are scrambling to get an accurate count of the population from Aspen to Parachute as the deadline for self-reporting has been moved up a month.

The Census Bureau will end its field operations Sept. 30 instead of the original date of Oct. 31, in order to meet statutory deadlines for delivering data to the White House, according to a recent statement by the agency’s director.

While Colorado’s response rate is 66.9%, Aspen’s is 33.8% and Snowmass Village’s is 25.4%. Pitkin County’s response rate is 35.6%, according to Rachel Brenneman, owner of Manifest Communication who is the local census campaign director for the Aspen to Parachute Complete Count Committee.

The committee is made up of individuals from government, nonprofits, the Latino sector of the population and others who represent 200 organizations in the region.

“We have our work cut out for us,” Brenneman said late last week.

Adding to the equation is the delay in getting enumerators knocking on the doors of people who haven’t filled out their census questionnaire, or gone online, due to the pandemic.

“Boots on the ground efforts were pushed back by two months,” Brenneman said. “It’s definitely making my team scramble.”

Getting an accurate census count is important because federal, state and local government funding is based on population data, which is why officials are emphasizing the importance of being counted.

That funding equates to $2,300 per person per year, Brenneman noted, and as much as $13 billion is on the line for Colorado to fund everything from roads and transportation; hospitals; public schools; health and human services; and emergency response, to name a few.

Populations also drive political representation in Congress as states lose seats every 10 years, based on the number of people living in a region.

“A state must care for all its citizens,” said Aspen City Councilwoman Rachel Richards. “Federally undercounting the population by ending the census counting a month early, after having previously decreased the funding for the census, has the potential to greatly shortchange Coloradoans of the very federal income taxes they pay and should see reinvested in our state.”

Pitkin County and Aspen’s response rates aren’t as bad as they seem when factoring in the number of addresses in Pitkin County that are not the primary homes of the owners, Brenneman said.

“I think the number of people who live here is probably 45%,” she said.

She said census officials deem the count a success if response rates match the previous one from 10 years ago.

In 2010, Pitkin County’s rate was 39.8%; Aspen, 38.7%; and Snowmass, 34.9%.

“We have 5% to go and Snowmass Village is 8 or 9%,” Brenneman said.

Snowmass Village in particular has a big gap in the census response rate because 100% of residents receive their mail at P.O. boxes and census materials are not delivered to P.O. boxes.

There’s also the phenomenon of a mass exodus of the village when the pandemic led to public health orders that shuttered the ski area in March, which is when census materials were being distributed.

“We are hoping they are back now,” Brenneman said, adding that the Aspen to Parachute committee has been peppering households in Snowmass Village with materials urging them to fill out the census online. “If you didn’t get anything about the census you live in a dark hole.”

The committee has hired former politician and voter data analyst Mick Ireland to do GIS mapping for low-response areas so local volunteers can reach out to households in those places.

Another challenge is President Donald Trump’s executive memo calling to not include undocumented immigrants in the count.

“We are working with the Latinx population who think that their information is not confidential,” Brenneman said. “It does not ask for social security numbers and you don’t have to be a citizen. … The fear that they have about it is just being strengthened by what’s happening politically.”

Richards expressed disappointment with the White House’s position.

“Announcing that they will only count ‘citizens’ is also counter to what the Constitution calls for, which is a ‘count of the population,’ knowing that is what any state or local government must ‘serve or manage’ however you look at it,” she said.

The committee is launching an “It’s not too late” campaign that will provide census information and messaging on local buses, yard signs and at carpool kiosks and in mailings to homeowner associations.

Philip Supino, the city of Aspen’s community development director and part of the Aspen to Parachute Complete Count Committee, said the work that’s been done locally for the past 20 months has been key in the effort but he hopes that the regional census bureau puts enough resources on the ground to raise the response rate.

“I would hate to see the number if we hadn’t been doing what we’ve been doing,” he said.

Laurie Cipriano, spokesperson for the U.S. Census Bureau, could not confirm how many enumerators are working in Pitkin County going door-to-door to help residents fill out their census.

Brenneman, who lives in Aspen, had an enumerator knock on her door this week.

Anecdotally, that worker said she was one of three working in the area.

She also reported that there have been technical problems with the phone app that enumerators use to register census information.

Cipriano said the issue is having a solid cellphone signal in certain areas but the information entered in the app is saved regardless of whether there is service.

“The census is working with the enumerators” on the issue, she said.

Richards and Brenneman urge people who have not filled out their census questionnaire to go online at 2020census.gov and fill it out to ensure that they are politically represented and federally funded.

“Both of these issues should be concerning and a reason for making sure one fills out the census,” Richards said.

csackariason@aspentimes.com


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