Making it count: How The Community Market and MIRA are helping with Eagle County’s census push
Alliance of 30 local jurisdictions and nonprofits are spreading the word about the importance of 2020 count
The Eagle River Valley Complete Count Committee, an alliance of 30 local jurisdictions and nonprofits, wants Eagle County residents to know three key things about the 2020 U.S. Census: it’s important, it’s easy, it’s safe.
Since much of the federal funding provided for local services and programs is based on census data, an accurate count in the census is critical to ensuring that residents receive the support they need, said Abby Dallmann, the special projects manager for Eagle County
“It really does impact every aspect of a resident’s life whether it be how the federal government is able to fund and support our schools, our libraries, public safety, public health, all the way to road improvements,” Dallmann said.
Federally-funded programs that are affected by census data also include the Women Infant Children program, the Early Head Start program, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program as well as all public services for veterans and senior citizens.
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The value of choosing to participate in the census “comes out to about $2,300 per person per year in funding into the community,” Dallmann said.
This year’s census is especially important for Coloradans, she said.
Due to an influx in Colorado’s population over the last 10 years, Dallmann said the state has the opportunity to gain a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives provided that residents are counted accurately in the census.
“So if you look at the population estimates, it shows that we would get a seat,” she said. “Now, we just need the census data to back that up. That means more representation at the federal level so this one’s got some pretty big ramifications for sure.”
Local census push
Local census workers will soon be making their rounds, knocking on doors to deliver census forms beginning Thursday, March 12, until Friday, March 20. But Dallmann said census preparations have been underway since last summer.
Eagle County formed the Complete Count Committee in August of last year with the help of a $34,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs, Dallmann said.
As the project manager for the committee, Dallman said the county wanted to bring key stakeholders together to begin developing “safe and inclusive outreach tactics” to spread information about the census which can be difficult in mountain communities like Eagle County.
Two of those local stakeholders are The Community Market, a healthy food access program, and the Neighborhood Navigators, a group of ambassadors dedicated to empowering the Latinx community in Eagle County.
“This year, there’s just a lot of compounding factors that’s making it quite a bit harder to really get the message out there,” Dallmann said. “So that’s why people like Rita with The Community Market, who is doing so much, that’s why we need them to be a part of it.”
Leveraging trust, combating fear
The Community Market will use the trust that it has built within the community to spread census information to groups of people who may be hesitant to participate, said Rita Mary Hennigan, the sustainability and partner relations coordinator.
“We are going to make a point of having conversations with our customers about the importance of the census in the time when there’s the biggest census push so that’s between mid-March and mid-May,” Hennigan said.
The Community Market will distribute informational flyers and census-branded tote bags at its main location in Gypsum as well as its weekly no-cost markets, where employees set up mobile food distribution sites in low-income neighborhoods across the valley, Hennigan said.
“We interact with a couple different populations of people that historically have been hard to count such as low-income people, Latinx people and seasonal workers,” she said. “We feel it’s important to let them know about how participating can ultimately lead to benefits for them in terms of access to resources.”
Any seasonal worker or part-time resident who is living in the valley for more than six months out of the year should fill out the census, Dallmann said.
The Complete Count Committee has been working with High Country Human Resources and Vail Resorts to get this information out to the major employers of seasonal workers, Dallmann said.
Eagle County has a rapidly-growing Latinx population, many of whom are first-generation immigrants and may not wish to participate in the census out of fear or distrust of the government, Dallmann said.
“Our population is 29 percent Spanish-speaking and, given the rhetoric at the federal level … there’s just a lot of fear around answering the census for our Latinx population,” she said.
In order to better address these fears, Neighborhood Navigators was given a $26,000 grant from the Colorado Health Foundation to help spread information to Hispanic residents about why they should participate in the census, the organization’s manager, Melina Valsecia, said.
“With this donation, we feel that we can tailor our activities to target, within the Latinx community, the people that are sometimes hidden or left behind or isolated,” Valsecia said. “So as soon as March 12 hits, we are going door-knocking with the census workers and introducing ourselves as the Neighborhood Navigators and offering our help to the census workers in completing the census.”
Dallmann said many Latinx residents may be fearful of participating in the census because of misconceptions they may have around how their information will be used.
The census does not ask for a social security number or your citizenship status and no specific individual information is shared with anyone beyond the census worker, she said.
“Census data is only shared in statistical format,” she said. “Individual forms are not shared, they are completely confidential. Census Bureau workers take an oath stating that it could lead to imprisonment and fining if they share any information.”
Some people may not wish to answer the census honestly due to concerns of repercussions from landlords if they have more occupants in their home or apartment than allowed, Dallmann said.
“That’s another assurance that we’re trying to provide is that no one, all the way up to President Trump down to your landlord, has access to that individual information,” she said.
Even with these safeguards in place, some residents still may not feel comfortable answering all 10 questions on this year’s census. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t still be counted, Valsecia said.
“We think if we answer the census then we have to answer all of these questions… but there is only one question that is mandatory to be answered and that is the number of people in your household,” she said.
Valsecia said she understands why some first-generation immigrants may feel like they don’t have time to complete the census.
“I was living in Eagle County 10 years ago and I didn’t complete the census because I was a new immigrant and I was trying to survive and get a job to pay bills,” Valsecia said. “But, now, I see differently. Neighborhood Navigators wants to assist people that are in the same situation — struggling, trying to bring food to their tables, trying to pay rent with two or three jobs so they don’t have time to get informed or involved in the census.”
Easy, safe, important
Neighborhood Navigators plans to spread information about the census by recruiting more local, bilingual census workers and planning a variety of community events over the next few months, Valsecia said.
Valsecia said she will also have census information available with the other nonprofit that she runs — the MIRA Bus. The MIRA Bus is a traveling RV that brings public health resources into hard-to-reach communities across Eagle County.
“In MIRA, we are three permanent staff so the three of us all applied to work as census workers so we can give that option to people who come to MIRA,” she said.
“We want to be that person that can tell them ‘You know, it’s simple. You’re not going to be risking anything, just tell me how many people you are and that’s it.’”
This year, the census is easier to complete than ever before, Dallman said. It can be done entirely online at 2020Census.gov starting mid-March.
“You can fill it out online, you can fill out the paper form or you can call and fill it out over the phone,” Dallmann said. “This year, it is also available in 13 languages.”
Neighborhood Navigators are always looking for new ideas on how to get more people excited about the census, Valsecia said. For more information on how to get involved, contact Valsecia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“By helping with the census, we are going to help many, many families with the support they can receive for the next 10 years,” she said. “So this is very important and we are going to need everyone’s help to make sure we get a complete count.”
Participating in the census is important, easy, safe and will help us forge strong communities here in the Eagle River Valley, Hennigan said.
“We want to improve quality of life for everyone in Eagle County,” she said. “We can achieve that goal by making our voices heard in this year’s census so that we can improve our publicly-funded resources.”
Kelli Duncan is a freelance reporter based in Chicago, Illinois. She writtes a monthly column for Eagle Valley Community Foundation after working with the nonprofit for a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA.
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