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Illinois Census Activities Get $29 Million

State of Illinois drawn on chalkboard
Carter Staley
NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Illinois is investing tens of millions of dollars to make sure no one is missed in the 2020 census.

State lawmakers included $29 million in the budget. The majority of the money will go to community groups to educate the public on how the census works and how the government uses the information it collects, according to Sol Flores, a deputy governor leading the census efforts.

She said about 10 percent will be earmarked for radio, television and online ads encouraging census participation. And a small amount will go to the administration of the grants and ad campaign.

“There's a lot at risk, a lot on the line, when it comes to making sure that we have an accurate count,” Flores said.

Illinois could lose up to two congressional seats after 2020, going from 18 to 16. Billions of dollars in federal funding are given out based on population for healthcare, education and other services.

A big concern for getting an accurate count is the proposal to include a question about citizenship status, potentially limiting participation among immigrants and their families. Illinois is among the states challenging the question; the case is now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Another barrier is the plan to collect responses online, which could make it harder for those without reliable internet access to participate.

Flores said the priority is to give grants to groups that are already trusted to target hard-to-count populations. The U.S. Census Bureau defines those populations as people who were missed in the previous count, such as young children, immigrants and minorities.

She said the work requires meeting people where they are: “For example, if it needs to be a homeless shelter, if it needs to be a senior center, if it needs to be an after school program, or a parent teacher group, for example, or cultural center, or an immigrant group.”

The administrative tasks for census outreach will move from the Secretary of State’s office, which has been coordinating Illinois’ Complete Count Commission, to the Department of Human Services. Flores said the department already has connections with groups that serve vulnerable populations throughout the state.

The 21-member Complete Count Commission will continue to meet, according to Dave Druker, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office. He said they will focus on “big picture” strategies. The next meeting is set for July, and the final report to the General Assembly is due next month as well.

The governor will appoint a new 12-member panel to oversee giving out this round of funding. Flores said some members will be the same as on the Complete Count Commission.

"Along with taking past findings, we want to take a fresh look, and make sure that we're addressing hard-to-count populations," Flores said.

In its initial report, the commission asked for $25 million for census activities. The Chicago Urban League released a study earlier this year that argued $33 million was needed to get an accurate count.

The $29 million in the state budget is in the middle. But Jay Young — executive director of Common Cause Illinois, a government reform group in Chicago — said he’s optimistic.

“That is more than almost any other state in the country has invested in getting the count out,” he said. “We have perhaps the most to lose in the country.”

Young and others raised concerns earlier this year that the state was slow to give out $1.5 million in an early round of grants for census education and activities.

Flores said the goal for this round of funding is to give out the majority of the money by early fall.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to issue an executive order promoting census outreach in the coming days.

Mary Hansen is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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