In Connecticut, advocates succeed in push for funding

While we are getting very close to the 2020 Census, there is still time to get your state to help fund Census outreach. Connecticut just put money towards the Census, and advocates are seeking more. Maybe what happened in Connecticut can be a model in your state too.

When one examines Connecticut state leaders’ efforts to ensure that everyone is counted in the 2020 Census, the phrase “progress, not perfection” comes to mind.

“Progress,” because state officials recently announced that $500,000 in state funds would be transferred from five different state agencies to promote the Census. Combined with philanthropic funds that have been pledged, that brings the amount of money available to ensure an accurate count to about $1.6 million.

“Not perfection,” because that still isn’t enough money. CT Voices for Children, an advocacy group that is organizing around the 2020 Census, has called for $3.57 million in funding — $1 dollar for each of the 3.57 million residents in the state. It wants state legislators to convene in special session to appropriate the money – because if they wait until their next regular session, it could be too late.

Interestingly, state officials announced the $500,000 fund transfer the day after CT Voices for Children issued a comprehensive, 25-page report that explained why the Census is important and examined what would happen if an undercount occurs. And the announcement came the day after a story ran in the Connecticut Mirror citing the CT Voices report and raising the alarm about an undercount.

Did one thing lead to another? We asked Emily Byrne, Executive Director of CT Voices.

“Advocacy is an art, not a science, but our report, in tandem with a critical story in the CT Mirror, pushed the gubernatorial administration to announce a pledge of $500K,” Byrne explained. “That said, we’ve been working with a handful of partners over the past few months to achieve this outcome.”

Before the state funding was announced on Oct. 31, Connecticut was one of about 19 states that had not funded Census outreach plans. What advice does Byrne have for advocates in these states where funding is lagging? Her advice: move quickly, but move in partnership with others.

“It’s important to remember that government funds require time to get out the proverbial door, which is why acting now is critical for dollars to reach community-based organizations (CBOs) prior to when Census notices are mailed in mid-March,” she says. “So, my advice is, if you see a window, go for it. That said, don’t try to go it alone; this type of quick work requires partners. While our action provided the CBOs with the political cover needed to be heard on the issue, ensuring every resident is counted in the 2020 Census requires collective and coordinated action.”

How does Byrne expect the soon-to-be available funds to be used to ensure an accurate count? Connecticut advocates have not heard how the funds will be distributed, but Byrne says she expects hard-to-count tracts and groups, including children, will be a focus.

“We hope that planning will be focused on Census education and outreach within hard-to-count Census population groups and tracts, which include children,” she said. “We also hope that funding will be prioritized for CBOs that engage with hard-to-count Census population groups, ensuring every resident, including every child, is counted.”

And she expects some resources to go to the development of promotional materials and use of those materials in creative ways.

“This is a place where the state has led and continues to lead,” she said. “They have organized, in the coming months, for a Census create-a-thon (visual marketing) and a contest for a Census jingle (audible marketing), among other local activities. These are great participatory ways for people to know about the Census, but nothing beats community organizing, especially when it comes to engaging hard-to-count population groups.”

CT Voices is continuing to ask that Census outreach be funded with a total state appropriation of $3.57 million. With $10.7 billion in annual federal funds through 55 large programs at stake, that’s a pretty good return on investment. Also at stake for Connecticut: if the state experiences an undercount in the neighborhood of 3 percent, or if the Census finds that the state population has fallen short of its 2020 projection by about 134,000 residents, the state could well lose yet another seat in Congress (this happened following the 2000 Census).

“We can’t afford to lose another one, which is why yesterday, we convened a group of community-based organizations and co-created with them an advocacy plan for engaging legislators and urging them to appropriate state funds in a special session,” Byrne reports. “Are we confident that more funds will be made available down the road? No. Are we confident that CBOs are empowered with the knowledge they needed and organized to advocate on behalf of the state’s children and families on this issue? Yes.”

At the end of the day, is Byrne confident that everyone, or nearly everyone, in Connecticut will be counted? The jury may still be out on that.

“My confidence that Connecticut will experience an accurate Census count increases with every additional dollar put into Census education and outreach,” she concludes.

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