Rep. Kelly holds census briefing, stresses need for an accurate count

U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-2nd) with County Commissioner Stanley Moore (D-4th) at a 2020 Census briefing at the Blue Door Neighborhood Center, 756 E. 111st St., July 8. (Photo by Aaron Gettinger)

By AARON GETTINGER
Staff writer

The 2020 Census is nine months away, but U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-2nd), facing the all-but-certain loss of one and possibly two Illinois congressional districts, is already working with federal authorities to get the word out about it and ensure everyone gets enumerated.

The census count determines the allocation of U.S. House of Representatives seats and of federal resources, which are distributed proportionally to the measured population. If a state is undercounted, it would receive less representation in Congress and fewer federal resources.

According to Kelly, research by the Urban League found that an undercount could lead to Illinois losing over $1 billion in federal investments, or $1,800 per capita annually for a decade for every Illinoisan who does not fill out the census. She said the cuts could affect over 100 programs, including Medicaid, federal student loans, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and highway funding.

“We cannot allow this to happen,” she said at a July 8 community briefing in Pullman, adding that the Urban League found Illinois to be the sixth-most-difficult state to count state. Her own congressional district, which runs from Kankakee up through the south suburbs and South Side to East Hyde Park, is similarly difficult. “African Americans have historically been hardest to count, and today’s current atmosphere isn’t helping,” she continued, noting that Cook County had a 25% non-response rate in 2010.

Speaking to President Trump’s continued efforts to include a question about respondents’ citizenship status in the census, though the Supreme Court rejected his rationale for inclusion, Kelly affirmed the census’ constitutional role to count all residents. “The intent is clear, do not be fooled: to discourage responses from people of color and undocumented immigrants to ensure an undercount.”.

The U.S. Census Bureau is allowing people to fill out their forms online for the first time next year, though the process will be difficult for some rural and elderly people as well as those with trust issues. Nevertheless, $29 million was included in the state budget for the census effort, more per capita than any other state, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s (D) newly established census office within the Department of Human Services that will coordinate with local governments and nonprofits.

U.S. Census Regional Director Marilyn Sanders said the Bureau is beginning to open field offices — 5 are planned to open in Cook County — and 9,000 workers are set to begin verifying addresses on Aug. 5.

In January, the Bureau will reach out to social services that support homeless people, those dependent on provided care, and colleges and universities that house transient students, with enumeration of those individuals in early March. National Census Day is April 1, 2020; residences with poor internet access will receive a paper form in the mail. On May 12, the Bureau will begin following up with non-respondents. Enumeration is mandated to conclude by Dec. 31, 2020.

“In spite of all of the things leading up to the census that we have to do, we are committed to making certain that we get every resident — every person — the ability to respond,” Sanders said. “We are committed to counting everyone once, only once and in the right place.”

The Census Bureau’s Response Outreach Area Mapper tool, www.census.gov/roam, is an interactive online map that allows users to identify low-response areas alongside the government’s census promotional efforts, activities and staffing, as well as locations’ demographic features. Additional information about the 2020 Census for Illinoisans can be found at www.ilcountmein2020.org.

Asked by the Herald about the potential of her district getting merged with that of Rep. Bobby Rush (D-1st), who represents the rest of Hyde Park-Kenwood, Kelly said she knew nothing about it. “I know that a lot of people have left the City of Chicago, but the south suburbs actually have grown,” she said.

After Kelly left for her flight back to Washington, D.C., County Commissioner Stanley Moore (D-4th), whose district includes southeastern Chicago and some suburbs along the Indiana border, referenced the Herald’s question again. “The fear is real,” he said. “We have absolutely no idea what districts we’re going to lose, how gerrymandering is going to happen and how the map’s going to look when this is all said and done. That’s why we take this so seriously, why we’re so passionate about making sure that everyone gets counted.”

In an April post-mayoral election interview with the Herald, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle also said the 2020 Census is among her top priorities. “We have to really focus on that, particularly on participation in African American and Latinx communities,” she said. “It’s critical not just for the county but for all our cities, towns and villages, school districts … Our resources depend on per capita federal dollars. We’ve got a lot of work to do there.”

a.gettinger@hpherald.com