The U.S. Census count is less than a year away, and the group tasked with making sure everyone is counted is asking state lawmakers for millions to help in that effort.
If the count on April 1, 2020 reveals that Illinois has lost another 45,000 residents, the state could lose two of its 18 congressional seats, according to an analysis from Election Data Services Inc., a political consulting firm.
The Illinois Complete Count Commission asked for at least $25 million in state funding.
But advocacy groups, like Common Cause Illinois, that are concerned about an accurate 2020 Census say more than $30 million is needed from the state to make sure everyone is counted.
With the official count next April, this year’s state budget is their last chance to get funding.
“If we miss our opportunity right now, we have to wait another decade to fix the problems,” said Jay Young, executive director of Common Cause Illinois, a Chicago-based nonprofit that promotes government reform. “Some of those folks are going to disappear into the shadows.”
State Sen. Heather Steans, a Chicago Democrat who chairs a Senate budget committee, said there’s widespread support for the request. But just how much is allocated is still under discussion. Lawmakers are expected to finalize the budget this week.
The federal government uses the population numbers from the census to determine funding levels for Medicaid, early childhood education programs and transportation projects. They also dictate how many congressional seats and electoral college votes each state has.
Small children, renters and college students are all less likely to get counted. They are among what the U.S. Census Bureau calls “hard to count” populations.
“It could be an undocumented person, it could be an elderly person who doesn't read their mail on a regular basis,” Young said. “Generally speaking, it is just a population that is not responding to the census, or is otherwise fearful of or distrusting of governmental processes.”
The report from the Complete Count Commission which was sent to lawmakers last November, found that one of the main barriers to participation was government mistrust. People weren’t sure how the government would use the information they provided. This was of particular concern to immigrant communities, the report found.
“One needs to look at it as an investment, there's potentially billions of dollars at stake,” said Dave Druker, spokesman for the Secretary of State. “And $25 million seems like a good investment in terms of being able to get a return on that federal money.”
The money would be used for public education about the census to explain why it’s important and how information given to the federal government will be used.
“At a base level you have to explain to folks why you’re collecting the information in the first place,” Young said.
The report from the Illinois Complete Count Commission acknowledged Illinois is likely to lose one and possibly two of its 18 congressional seats. “That's two votes for president. I mean, this is incredibly important,” Young said.
According to the census, last year marked the fifth year in a row for the state to lose people for a variety of reasons including residents moving out of state, fewer immigrants moving here, and a low birth rate.