Traverse City News and Events

Preparing For The 2020 Census

By Beth Milligan | June 18, 2019

Community leaders across northern Michigan are already starting preparations for the 2020 U.S. census – with billions of dollars in federal funding and Congressional seats at stake.

The U.S. Constitution requires a census to take place every 10 years, a count that has been conducted since 1790. The 2020 census kicks off on April 1; for the first time ever, individuals will be able to respond online as well as by phone and mail. Households are asked questions including how many people are living or staying in the home, whether the home is owned or rented, the sex, age, and race of each household member, and the relationship of each household member to one central member. The U.S. Supreme Court is also expected to rule this month on whether next year’s census can ask about the citizenship status of each person – the first time such a question would be included on the form since 1950.

The data collected determines the number of representatives each state gets in Congress, as well as how federal funds are distributed to states through 132 different programs, ranging from Medicare and Section 8 housing to Head Start and the National School Lunch Program. Census data was used to distribute more than $675 billion in funds in fiscal year 2015, according to the Census Bureau’s own figures. A recent study from The George Washington University showed that Michigan receives over $14.5 billion dollars (about $1,467 per person) from the 16 largest federal programs that disburse funds based on census figures. An estimated $1,800 per Michigander in federal funding is at stake in the 2020 census.

The importance of the census to state funding and political representation is fueling an aggressive campaign by local organizations to make sure as many individuals as possible are represented in the next count – particularly from vulnerable or traditionally undercounted populations, such as low-income households, individuals experiencing homelessness, minority groups or immigrants, seasonal workers, young children, and households in isolated rural areas. Networks Northwest is serving as the regional census hub administrator, offering funding and assistance to nonprofits throughout the 10-county region who have direct access to those populations to make sure members are aware of the upcoming census, respond, and are counted.

“Right now, over 40 percent of Michigan’s overall budget comes from federal dollars,” says Community Planner Heather Bowden of Networks Northwest. “If we don’t have that complete and correct count of people, we’re potentially leaving money on the table to be able to do critical planning and community work.”

Networks Northwest has $100,000 available through a partnership with the Michigan NonProfit Association to distribute to area nonprofits through grant applications for outreach and promotional efforts this summer. Bowden says activities will include public awareness campaigns to educate and inform residents about the upcoming census, plus events in April – such as at community centers – where household members who have limited Internet access or prefer to fill out a physical form can come and do so in person. Networks Northwest also does ground work ahead of the census to confirm addresses and verify geographic boundaries of census areas to help ensure accuracy. The initial push for online and phone census-taking in April will be followed up by the Census Bureau with mailers and then in-person visits to households in an attempt to count as many residents as possible in 2020.

In addition to a statewide Complete Count Committee launched by Governor Gretchen Whitmer this month to prioritize representational accuracy – containing over 50 members from agencies across Michigan – Grand Traverse County Administrator Nate Alger is also helping to organize a regional Complete Count Committee focused on convening local city, township, and county agencies. Alger says he hopes to hold a training session near the end of July for 100-200 people on how to be a census ambassador and maximize outreach efforts. “We need as many people as possible who know of vulnerable individuals or populations to help us pass information around,” Alger says. The county is also working on a dedicated website to share census information, with commissioners including Chair Rob Hentschel and Betsy Coffia involved in efforts and encouraging community outreach. Anyone interested in being a part of the Complete Count Committee can contact county administration at 231-922-4780.

The 2020 Census will also have another important impact locally: It’s expected that the Traverse City area will reach a population density to become a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). That threshold requires populations over 50,000 in specific urbanized zones – in the city's defined zone, the population has been hovering near 49,000 and is expected to cross the 50,000 threshold in 2020. “When that happens, we’ll be officially designated (as an MPO),” says Bowden. “We’ll become a governing body that receives federal dollars to distribute out to municipalities for needed transportation and transit improvements.” The move will make northern Michigan eligible for new funding for regional planning efforts and transportation and transit projects currently unavailable to the region.

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