By Elle Meyers
BETHESDA – Montgomery County is beginning preparations for the 2020 Census, the first year the survey will be filled out primarily online.
The Census, which is conducted nationwide every ten years, provides indications on population growth and helps accurately allocate seats in the House of Representatives so that communities have fair representation. Diane Vu, the director of the Office of Community Partnerships, explained that an accurate count of people residing in the county helps officials on a federal level allocate money for things like schools, community programming and hospitals among others.
“We allocate dollars based on the population count, everything from senior services to youth services,” said Vu. “It’s important that we know exactly how many folks live in Montgomery County, so we can determine what’s needed, and we can allocate based on the need.”
“Not having everyone counted can result in a loss of millions of dollars of funds for vital county programs and services,” said County Executive Marc Elrich.
2020 will also be an important year because it will be the first time the survey is conducted primarily online for areas that have shown high internet use like Montgomery County. According to the Census Bureau, other response options will also be available, like a paper questionnaire or a mail-in option.
“One of the challenges this year is for people who don’t have access to internet and computers,” Vu said. “That’s going to be a very difficult population to reach so we have to target our outreach for that.”
A successful count of everyone in Montgomery County requires a lot of community education. Vu explained that outreach efforts are already in the works, like a 2020 Census launch tour that will bring rallies to different jurisdictions around Montgomery County. Rallies will include speakers that will talk about the importance of filling out and submitting the census.
“We’re going to do everything from work with our public libraries to our department of recreation centers, and non-profit organizations that have computer labs,” said Vu. “So that we can make sure folks do have access.”
Another potential barrier to an accurate count involves the possibility of a citizenship question added to the nationwide survey. In April, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Trump Administration can add a question asking about a person’s legal citizenship in the United States. The request to add this question has drawn considerable attention from cities and states that do not want the question included. The concern is that a citizenship question will dissuade people from responding accurately or even altogether.
“In light of what’s happening on the federal level there are people who live in Montgomery County, and across the nation, who would be worried that information could potentially be used against them,” Vu said. “We’re already seeing residents not interact with government in the way they did before because they are concerned about the impacts.”
Although still a year away outreach and education for the census have already begun. Officials plan to use upcoming festivals and a kick-off event in late spring as part of the process. Vu explained that it’s important to begin educating the community early to answer questions and encourage accurate responses.
“We want to use this opportunity to really drive home that ‘Everyone Counts in Montgomery’,” said Nancy Navarro who is the 2020 Census Complete Count Committee Chair.
Montgomery County is home to a diverse population one that had a high rate of return in the 2010 Census, according to Elrich. And even though there are barriers to an accurate count, officials are working to facilitate a smooth and representative survey for 2020.