COLLEGE PARK, Md. — In light of the rapid spread of the coronavirus across the state, local organizations and university departments like the Office of Community Engagement are changing the way they go about promoting the census and reaching out to the community.
“This had been more of a challenge because although many of us will be on Facebook, Instagram…the chances that we can get people to really get in it and complete the census form online [or] by phone … was still in the testing ground,” said Gloria Aparicio-Blackwell, the director of the Office of Community Engagement.
The department plans to raise awareness of the census by doing a weekly Instagram livestream called “Count Me In,” focusing on the importance of filling out the census. The live events will stream every Wednesday at 5 p.m. until May.
In 2010, the Maryland Department of Planning found that Prince George’s County miscounted approximately 19,900 residents resulting in a loss of a little over $363 million.
“This is not just a chunk of change, this is real money that can do so much in our community,”Aparicio-Blackwell explained.
To date, 32.6 percent of College Park residents have filled out the census, according to the “Hard to Count Map.” Only 66.5 percent of College Park residents filled out the census form in 2010. Aparicio-Blackwell said that the Office of Community Engagement is trying to “revamp their campaigns” in order to have more people in the county take the census.
Prince George’s county was ranked third in the D.C. region with 23 percent of its total population being foreign born, according to a research study conducted by the Migrant Policy Institute in 2016.
In 2010, the census stated that 19.1 percent of the population in Prince George’s county were of Hispanic or Latino descent. This inspired Aparicio-Blackwell to create a Maryland Latino Coalition that works specifically with the U.S. Census Bureau to promote the importance and benefits of taking the census to the Latinx community.
“We have decided to change the messaging by saying that their community will get more resources that they actually need,” said Aparicio-Blackwell.
Students do not have to worry about their citizenship status being put on the census form, but some have to decide whether taking the census is important even if they do not live in College Park all year around.
The student coalition TerpsVote wants all students to know the importance of filling out the census, according to Alexandra Marquez, student co-chair of TerpsVote.
“Voting is a civic duty, but filling out the census is also a civic duty and we think it’s just as important for students to fill out the census as it is for them to vote in their elections,” said Marquez, a junior anthropology and multi-platform journalism major.
Three weeks ago, President Wallace Loh announced that classes would be moving online for the rest of the semester. With students now needing to rely on technology to complete their school work, organizations now have a great platform to promote the census and its importance, according to Marquez.
“There’s a lot we can do to utilize those resources that people may have not been paying so much attention to if they were still on campus,” said Marquez.
With non-essential employees now having to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations like D.C. Catholic Charities are still finding ways to make sure that their communities’ concerns are answered.
“We are helping clients through telephone and online. We’ve already had various clients call us asking for help to fill out the census form…through that way we are helping the people,” said Julieta Machado-Pacanins, director of Immigrant Support Services for D.C Catholic Charities.
The census provides local governments with the necessary funds for public safety, emergency preparedness, and supports community initiatives for residents.
“This money can help us aid everyone. Everyone in every community represents approximately $1,800 per person per 10 years. So, if we miss that …10 years down the road people are going to be impacted,” said Aparicio-Blackwell.
With many continuing to advocate for the importance of the census, Marquez would like students to treat the census seriously.
“It’s your civic duty as part of that community that you may or may not realize you’re a really big part of to fill out the census and make sure that for the next group of students that are coming in over the next 10 years …[they] get the resources and representation that they need,” she said.