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Fair representation

 Redistricting in Ohio  
Communities caught in the crosshairs-Census 2020

The 2020 Census is in trouble and that means trouble for communities which are chronically underrepresented and underserved. The problems facing the census include chronic underfunding and a lack of leadership. These complications are on top of "normal" resistance to participating in the census takers questions or forms that come in the mail. 

The combined effect of these problems could be an undercount that results in a loss of congressional representation and Federal funding to local communities. That's because census data determine how representation is apportioned for the US Congress and how funds from many Federal programs are distributed. A bad census count in a one community can put that community at a disadvantage when the state redraws districts for the Ohio General Assembly. 

The threat to representation and funding is particularly clear in the Rust Belt where depopulation could reduce the number of Congressional seats. Ohio is one of the states most at risk of losing a vote in Congress.

Making a fair count will take a community wide effort. One local organization doesn't have the clout to affect a community-wide effort to educate and motivate residents to participate. One effort in Ohio focuses on funders coordinated by Philanthropy Ohio. It's not clear from their website how local service providers and community based organizations can be involved.

Michigan funders seem to be taking a more inclusive approach. Michigan Nonprofit Association is spearheading a "Get out the count" campaign, reaching out to hard to count communities (recent immigrants, homeless and households that move frequently, eg. renters) using community specific approaches. " 'It may be people going door to door, talking to people at events, or a neighborhood service organization in Detroit that serves many in the homeless population,' Bowman said. 'It may look different in Flint than it does in the Upper Peninsula.' ”

The good news for local nonprofits is that participating in a census fair count program should not take too much energy away from the organization's core mission. Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) has created a tool kit for organizations to get out the count. Resources include: a fact sheet on young children and their families in the 2020 Census, a fact sheet on citizenship, immigration and the 2020 Census, an analysis on the role of the census in the geographic distribution of federal funds, and a Census 2020 communications toolkit. Ohio is one of the states that AECF has targeted for its Kids Count Network

Local and grassroots outreach provides the critical element of relationship marketing to an overall campaign. Because you know your members and they know you, your staff can lower the barriers to giving information to "strangers" from "the government." Get out the Count is a lot like work you already do. Voter Registration. Homeless Point in Time Count. Even your Intake/screening procedures could be a time when do a little groundwork for census participation. Here's the problem: because the connections to community well being aren't immediate or tangible, it's easy for citizens and leaders to dismiss the effort as "just one more thing." As direct or indirect recipients of Federal funding and as sometimes advocates seeking public policy changes, you know the importance of the census to your work. Engaging staff and volunteers to help strengthens your base of community engagement.
posted December 13, 2017