The census is one of the most important ways a city can access federal funds. Every completed census form is worth an estimated $1,800 in funding for programs like medicare, food assistance, head start, road repairs, more. And those rates are locked-in for a decade after the census is completed.
That’s why the city of Detroit is making a concerted effort to engage residents around the census. Called the “Be Counted Detroit” campaign, the city is hoping to raise $3 million and connect with over 100 local nonprofits, institutions, and community groups on the grassroots effort. It’s also partnering with the Census Bureau to hire around 2,000 canvassers and other staff, and will launch its own hiring effort this summer.
The official census count takes place from March to July 2020.
“The city of Detroit is determined to count everyone and is launching an aggressive media and grassroots outreach campaign to educate and motivate Detroiters around the Census,” said Victoria Kovari, executive director of the Detroit 2020 census campaign, in a press release.
In 2010, Detroit only had a 64 percent census completion rate—of the largest drops in participation in the nation. It cost the city tens of millions of dollars in federal funds.
One reason many are hesitant to participate in the census is from fear that their information will be sent to law enforcement or government agencies. But the census is 100 percent confidential and can only be used by the Census Bureau for the purposes of data gathering.
“By law, census information is kept confidential,” said Mayor Mike Duggan. “It doesn’t matter what your immigration status is. It doesn’t matter where your car is registered. All that matters is whether you are living in Detroit on April 1, 2020. And if the answer is yes, fill out your census form and be counted in Detroit.”
This will also be the first census done largely online. Given that Detroit faces a massive digital divide affecting traditionally disenfranchised groups—low-income, minorities, immigrants—this could pose a huge problem for participation. To combat this, the city is establishing over 100 locations across Detroit where residents can fill out or get help with their census form.
One unresolved issue is whether there will be a question on the census about responders’ immigration status. The Justice Department is seeking to include this question, which is likely to suppress participation among non-citizens. It is being challenged in court by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and a hearing by the Supreme Court is expected to come in April.