It's still not too late to fill out the census

Published: May. 4, 2020 at 7:05 PM EDT
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If you haven't filled out the census yet, it's still not too late, although the Census Bureau has had to adjust their deadlines due to COVID-19.

This past weekend was the Weekend of Action for the census and people are still encouraged to self-respond online.

Carah Ong-Whaley, associate director of the JMU Center for Civic Engagement, said they've been doing a lot of community outreach, including partnering with local officials.

"We've really been trying to work with local trusted leaders on these efforts," Ong-Whaley said.

She added most people do not really look through their mail and may not trust something coming from the federal government. They have partnered with Rockingham County and the city of Harrisonburg to contact some of the harder to reach communities.

Some of those efforts include designing door hangers, and digital outreach like social media, text messages and emails.

City and county schools also sent home fliers at the meal distribution sites.

"People are more likely to trust somebody that they know or see as connected to them through their community," Ong-Whaley said.

She added it's especially important that people continue to fill out the census, since it affects everything from money to political representation.

"The census really comes down to money and power," Ong-Whaley said.

The census data affects political representation and how political lines are drawn. If people don't fill out the census, Ong-Whaley said areas could lose political representation.

"The representation matters, but I think equally important, and especially in light of COVID-19 and the need to rebuild and recover from this crisis, is that census data is used for a variety of federal and state programs, in terms of allocating funding," Ong-Whaley said.

The data also affects funding for schools and school lunches as well as transportation, infrastructure, and even businesses deciding to come to the area.

"It really affects a lot of elements, not just of our democracy, but also for our economy," Ong-Whaley said.

She added an accurate headcount also matters in ensuring that our healthcare infrastructure is prepared for crises like COVID-19 and any other issues that could happen.

Ong-Whaley said the pandemic has meant a lot of the civic engagement center's in-person programming was canceled, which makes it more difficult to reach certain groups, like college students.

Ong-Whaley said they are doing as much outreach with James Madison University students through as many different methods to make sure each of them is counted. She added college students should fill out the census as if they are at school, even if they are at home.