AURORA | Social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders due to the novel coronavirus outbreak have forced a new timeline in completing the U.S. Census, but federal officials are optimistic the effort to count every person in the country can be finished before the end of the year.
Some elected officials even suggest that now, a time where so many people are home with more time on their hands than usual, is a good time to answer the nine questions on the survey aimed at reaching everybody in the U.S.
“It’s not like you have a lot of other things to do,” Gov. Jared Polis said of the ultimate stuck-at-home activity during a news conference this week.
With so many people being home, local and federal officials believe there’s an opportunity for more people to self-report. That could affect how much more work the federal government has to do later. More self-reporting now would mean fewer census takers are dispatched to neighborhoods over the summer.
The virus’s spread forced the U.S. Census Bureau to suspend field operations for a month, from mid-March to mid-April, when the hiring process would be ramping up for up to 500,000 temporary census takers. The bureau has delayed the start of counts for the homeless and people living in group quarters like college dorms and nursing homes, and pushed back the head count’s deadline from the end of July to mid-August.
So far, about 46 percent of people living in Aurora have completed the questionnaire, Census officials estimate. The overall response is poised to dictate how many federal dollars are directed to the city for things like housing services and transportation projects.
It’s why the city has beefed up its effort to make sure as many people are counted as possible. Aurora has been identified as a region where there are “hard-to-count” communities, so state dollars and extra resources have been allocated to help get the count as close to accurate as possible. From the state Department of Local Affairs, Adams County received $420,000 in funds, Arapahoe County received just more than $102,000 and the City of Aurora got $53,600 for Census outreach.
The U.S. Census Bureau is spending $500 million on outreach efforts and relying on more than 300,000 nonprofits, businesses, local governments and civic groups to encourage participation in their communities. But those efforts have been hamstrung by the virus shutdown, so some are going digital.
Activist group Faith in Action held a Twitter chat to encourage people to fill out their census forms and Census Bureau Deputy Director Ron Jarmin went on Reddit to spread the word. Comcast NBCUniversal and Telemundo unveiled public service announcements Wednesday and said the company will provide $2 million in grants and in-kind contributions to community groups in hard-to-count areas.
Even Aurora Congressman Jason Crow held a town hall via Facebook Live last week to encourage constituents to make sure they complete the Census.
“The moral of this town hall was just get it in,” he said. “Do it online, over the telephone or write it in. The earlier the better. Stand up and be counted so we can know how many people live in our community so that we can get those federal resources, we can draw our political districts and everything just works so much more smoothly if we have a successful census.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.