Group makes final push to count all Snowmass, Pitkin residents in 2020 census
To learn how to complete your 2020 census survey and more about the Aspen to Parachute Complete Count Committee, visit a2pcensus2020.com. Census surveys must be completed by Sept. 30.
“Excuse me!” shouted Mendy McConnell as she ran up to a man walking toward a Creekside housing building in Snowmass on a recent morning. “Have you completed your census yet?”
He stopped and said he hadn’t. So McConnell, one of the Aspen-Snowmass area locals working on the ground for the Aspen to Parachute Complete Count Committee, handed the man a card with instructions on how to participate in the 2020 census — the national population survey that aims to count every person living in the United States every decade.
For the past month, McConnell has helped remind people to fill out their census by walking through her Aspen neighborhood and others, knocking on doors and distributing “how to census” information — something the longtime resident and hairdresser feels is a good way to support the people who have done so much to support her over the years.
“The census is important because it’s used to make effective decisions and it influences so much funding related to education, housing and emergency services,” McConnell said. “I honestly didn’t realize how important it really was. … This community has served me so well and so I just felt like this was a great way to give back.”
The U.S. Census is a mandated population and housing count that aims to include every person living the U.S. and five U.S. terriroties — only once, in the right place and regardless of citizenship. Census data guide how more than $675 billion of federal funding is distributed to states and communities each year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau website.
As of Aug. 31, 68.4% of Coloradans had “self-responded” to the census survey, 3.4 percentage points higher than the national self-response rate and 1.2 percentage points higher than the state’s final 2010 self-response rate, according to current census data. Self-response means a person completed the 2020 census online, by mail or by phone, not via an enumerator interview, the census website explains.
And for every person who doesn’t fill out a 10-question census form, Colorado will lose $23,000 in federal funding for roads and transportation, hospitals, public schools, health and human services, emergency response and more over the next 10 years, as previously reported.
In Pitkin County, the self-response rate is at 36.3%, 3.5 percentage points lower than the county’s final 2010 rate, as of Aug. 31. And in Snowmass Village, it’s 26.6%, 8.3 percentage points lower than the village’s final 2010 rate, 2020 U.S. Census Bureau data shows.
According to Rachel Brenneman, campaign director for the Aspen to Parachute Complete Count Committee, which is made up of individuals from valley governments, nonprofits, the Latino sector of the population and others who represent 200 organizations in the region, there are few factors that contribute to why Snowmass’ self-response rates are seemingly lower than the rest of the county and the state.
First, Brenneman said second homeownership plays a big role in the lower self-response rates in both Pitkin County and Snowmass.
She explained that people are supposed to fill out their census with the location they stay six months and one day out of the year, so if someone spends seven or eight months in Texas and the rest of the time in Aspen-Snowmass, their census should be completed in/for Texas. Brenneman said she believes 50% or more of the homes in Pitkin County won’t be accounted for in the 2020 census because they belong to second homeowners.
Second, she said the U.S. Census Bureau does not send participation packets or completion reminders to P.O. Boxes, which is how all residents in Snowmass and roughly 35% of all Pitkin County residents get their mail.
That’s why the complete count committee has sent out its own series of mailers to local P.O. Boxes and had contracted employees like McConnell go door to door to drop off census packets in late June and early July.
Committee employees also are currently in the process of handing out census reminder cards to Snowmass residents, and are sending out reminders via a multitude of platforms and methods to everyone from Aspen to Parachute — who all need to complete their census surveys before the Sept. 30 submission deadline, Brenneman said.
When asked what federal funding funneling through the state to Pitkin County and Snowmass would be affected if local residents do not complete the census this year, Brenneman said some of the biggest areas impacted would be roads and transportation and schools.
She explained that CDOT’s $1.5 billion annual budget is funded in part by the census, which impacts roads and transportation projects in Pitkin County, and $8.4 million in federal transit grants in 2019 supported Roaring Fork Transportation Authority riders. Census data is often used to apply for federal grants, Brenneman said. She also said from 2011 to 2018, schools from Aspen to Parachute received about $25 million in funding based on census data.
Mick Ireland, a longtime Aspen local, former Aspen and Pitkin County politician and current door-to-door census outreach manager for the complete count committee, is one of the boots-on-the-ground locals like McConnell who has been working in collaboration with the U.S. Census Bureau’s efforts to ensure everyone participates — and understands why it’s important to participate — in the 2020 national survey.
Ireland said based on the geo data analysis he’s completed comparing 2010 census numbers with the number of voters registered in Pitkin County, he believes around 250 to 400 people were missed in the last census.
But this census, Ireland is using his analysis map to pinpoint areas of the valley that may have been undercounted in the past. He’s worked for the past several months to manage census canvass teams in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties, focusing on reaching historically undercounted populations, like young kids, seniors, seasonal workers, the Latino community and households.
“A lot of us are worried the census will be cut off before we can count the undercounted,” Ireland said. “We’d definitely like some more time … but it makes me feel good to know I’ve personally talked to around 100 people about doing it which will hopefully make a difference.”
As Ireland talked outside of Clark’s Market on Sept. 1 about the importance of the census and understanding local population data, dozens of people passed by an informational table nearby where Travis Elliott, assistant town manager, asked them if they’d completed their census surveys.
Elliott said the town of Snowmass Village has been an active partner of the Aspen to Parachute Complete Count Committee and regional U.S. Census Bureau team, contributing financially and logistically. Elliott and Jim Wahlstrom, town senior planner, serve on the steering committee of the larger complete count group and have helped come up with some of its larger communication and outreach strategies.
Elliott and Brenneman expressed cautious optimism about getting a complete local count by the end of September, but said together the Aspen to Parachute Complete Count Committee and U.S. Census Bureau are pushing hard to make it happen.
“I’m excited and confident about the outreach plan we’ve put together,” Brenneman said of the committee’s local informational push planned for the last month of the 2020 census. “But I think we’re all concerned, all a little stressed and all a little uncertain about how this will play out.”
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