CENSUS DAY IN THE ERA OF COVID-19

Today is Census Day in Montana. All Montana households can compete the census online, by phone at 1-844-330-2020, or by mail – even without receiving an official invitation/ID to participate.

Census Day is not what MNA envisioned as recently as January of this year. We planned on supporting large gatherings across the state to celebrate being counted. We visualized Montanans gathering together in the common cause of ensuring Montana’s representation. We were counting on census workers traversing the state, knocking on doors to encourage households to complete their form and help Montana gain the resources and infrastructure we need to thrive in the next decade.

All this has changed. As so much has since COVID-19 became part of our reality. Census ground operations are now delayed until the end of April. For Montana, that is more troublesome than for most other states.

Here’s the problem. 

The Census Bureau will only mail Census materials to household addresses – not P.O. Boxes. Across the nation, 5% of households have a P.O. Box address. In Montana, it’s 35%, with a disproportionate number being rural and tribal. To make matters worse, many households without addresses also don’t have internet, which means they cannot go online to complete the Census. The bottom line is that many Montana households will not receive official census outreach until May, putting Montana at significant risk for a massive undercount. This will cost us millions of dollars over ten years, impact voting districts for underrepresented populations, and potentially keep Montana from gaining more congressional representation.

To underscore this point, notice the areas highlighted in yellow on the map below. These are whole swaths of Montana that have not yet received their invitation to respond to the census online, by phone, or by using paper form packets typically delivered by now.

Montanan Map

The amount of yellow on the map should give us pause as we see visually the impact of the delay in ground operations in Montana. The Census Bureau’s response has been and will continue to be to urge households to fill out the census form online in an effort to combat COVID-19, boost self-response rates, and reduce costs. However in many areas of Montana, especially disadvantaged communities that have proven more vulnerable to being undercounted in the past, low internet access will hinder this online response effort. Online completion was a challenge for many Montana households from the get-go. The plan was to promote the count and then do mop-up by leaving Census forms on doorways and – if needed – knock on doors to get the job done. With COVID-19, Census 2020 efforts are stymied through much of the state.

Montana receives an estimated $2 billion in federal funds each year based on Census data. For every Montana resident counted, the state will receive $20,000 over the decade for healthcare, educations, highways, and more.

So what do we do now?

It’s Census Day and even while sheltered in place we can take steps to help Montana gain a fair, accurate, and complete count. MNA is partnering with other entities across the state to mail postcards to P.O. Boxes. We are running social media campaigns, helping partner organizations use text messages to reach hard-to-count communities, and working with food banks to include census flyers in their packages. And today, we reach out to you, asking for your help.

Will you help us make sure Montana’s Census 2020 count is strong?

Now, more than ever, nonprofits will play a vital role in getting out the count. Even while sequestered, you have power. You have stakeholders and clients that trust you and look to you for leadership. You have a network you can influence.

This Census Day, do one thing to get out the count: send out an email to your constituents, post on your Facebook page, challenge your teammates and colleagues. Let your neighbors, family, and friends know they can call 1-844-330-2020 and get it done!

COVID-19 is taking quite enough from us. Let’s not hand Montana’s Census count over as well. Today, celebrate the right and responsibility to be counted. Celebrate Census 2020 and do your part to get out the count for Montana.

Here’s why the Census matters to Team MNA. Share why it matters to you!

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