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Census 2020: Working Hard to Count Communities During Pandemic

Census outreach work that was supposed to wrap up in March has been extended to Oct. 31, even though funding levels have remained the same. (U.S. Census Bureau)
Census outreach work that was supposed to wrap up in March has been extended to Oct. 31, even though funding levels have remained the same. (U.S. Census Bureau)
May 21, 2020

DENVER -- Making sure that all residents are counted in the 2020 Census got a lot harder after the coronavirus pandemic forced Colorado communities into lockdown, and reaching hard-to-count communities became even more challenging.

Lizette Escobedo is director of national census programs for the NALEO Educational Fund, which focuses on Latino communities. She says all of her group's original plans for community-based outreach went out the window.

"We also had to create all these opportunities for online surges, where you can get 50 to 100 organizations to -- all on the same week -- just encourage everyone to participate in the census," she states.

Escobedo says her team has shifted focus to meeting people who have not yet filled out the form wherever they are, and these days that means on social media and streaming services.

Escobedo says the stakes for getting an accurate count are high. Census data is used to determine political representation, and distributing $13 billion in Colorado each year for health, education, seniors programs and more.

Escobedo says the controversy over a potential citizenship question on the census remains a barrier for communities of color with a history of legitimate distrust of government. She points to a survey showing that half of all respondents did not know the question had been removed.

"Making ourselves seen, making ourselves counted, it's impossible to ignore our community and our priorities," she stresses. "I think when we look back at history, we can say in a moment where there were all these attempts to make us invisible, to not make us heard, we did the opposite."

NALEO has trained more than 3,000 people at more than 200 events, including in Denver and Pueblo, reminding people that all data collected by the census is confidential and cannot be shared with other government agencies.

Escobedo encourages anyone with questions about the census to call a toll-free hotline at 877-EL-CENSO, or 877-352-3676. Census forms can be filled out online at www.my2020census.gov.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO