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AZ Groups Work Overtime as Census 2020 Deadline Looms

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Wednesday, September 16, 2020   

PHOENIX -- With just a few weeks left to complete the 2020 census, groups representing Arizona's historically undercounted residents say they're making a major effort to ensure they are fully represented.

The final count will determine how billions of federal dollars are distributed for health, social and educational programs. The census also contains data on each of the state's racial minorities.

Isis Gil, development director for Arizona's Puente Human Rights Movement, said many people they contact about the census, particularly in Latino and Native American households, are hesitant to respond.

"There's a great deal of fear-mongering and intimidation tactics that many of our people have known for decades," she said, "and we see a lot of disillusionment in that demographic -- where it's like, 'Why do we really want to participate? What's the point of this? What am I going to get out of it?'"

So far, 86% of Arizonans have filled out their census forms, below the 92% national average. Among communities of color, however, the rate is believed to be significantly lower. The deadline for the census count is Oct. 31.

While census workers still are visiting households that have not responded, Gil said, Puente volunteers also are going into communities. She said she believes that when people hear what's at stake, they are more willing to participate.

"And I think once we have that legitimate conversation of what your opposition is trying to keep you from, that really helps," she said. "Our people have a lens and kind of the light bulb comes on, in terms of, 'Oh, this really will help us.'"

Other groups are taking a family-centric approach. Jennifer Chau, community organizer with Arizona's fast-growing Asian-American Pacific Islander community, said social gatherings also bring results.

"There was 20 families that ended up filling out their census there," she said. "So, for us, that's a success. If you do 20 families - and some might have big families, like 10 or more -- that's millions of dollars right there."

The census count also is used to reapportion the U.S. House of Representatives. Political watchers say Arizona could gain an addition seat in the next Congress, but only if the state's population is fully counted.

Census data is online at 2020census.gov.

Disclosure: Progress Now Arizona contributes to our fund for reporting on Civic Engagement, Environment, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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