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Amid Legal Wrangling, Census Outreach in High Gear in WI

As COVID-19 cases spike again in states such as Wisconsin, those in charge of census outreach efforts are making a push through social media. (Adobe Stock)
As COVID-19 cases spike again in states such as Wisconsin, those in charge of census outreach efforts are making a push through social media. (Adobe Stock)
September 28, 2020

MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- Community groups and civic leaders are allowed to continue conducting the 2020 census through October, thanks to a ruling from a federal judge.

However, an official in Wisconsin said she's not taking anything for granted.

Last week, the judge ruled against the Trump administration, which had abruptly called for counting to end Sept. 30. That triggered a lawsuit from the National Urban League.

Sharon Robinson, chairperson for the Greater Milwaukee Complete Count Committee, said because of the potential for more uncertainty, her team is still working with a great sense of urgency.

"Our self response rate is actually lagging, because it's actually about four percentage pointed lower than what it was in 2010," Robinson said. "And we're also below the national average of 66%. So we definitely got to boost those numbers up."

A shortened schedule underscores concerns about not reaching historically undercounted groups, including people of color. Robinson said they're focusing on social-media campaigns and reducing mistrust of the effort.

The administration is appealing the ruling. It now said the earlier end date is crucial because Congress didn't grant extensions for the Bureau's ultimate project deadline.

But Robinson, who also is director of Milwaukee's Department of Administration, said because the pandemic delayed initial field operations, they could use more time, not a push to frantically speed things up and risk an inaccurate count.

She said their earlier campaigns didn't reach many households because of the statewide shutdown in the early stages of the coronavirus.

"Some of our strategy was to have census ads like on buses and on all kinds of neighborhood billboards, and people were in the house, so obviously they didn't even see some of those types of things," Robinson said.

She feels if the ruling stands, and they do have another month, there's a better chance they can reach all the households on their list.

Among other things, the census establishes how much federal funding goes to each state. Following the 2010 count, Wisconsin received more than $12 billion for a host of programs.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - WI