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Illinois Census Office Works To Give Out Consistent Correct Information

U.S. Census Bureau

As Illinois prepares for the 2020 census count, leaders of the state census office said they’re focusing on getting correct information out to communities, in particular clearing up confusion about job qualifications for census enumerators, the use of online forms and the timeline for the decennial count.

Other states, including Montana and Missouri, have been dealing with potentially misleading census forms sent out by the Republican National Committee, which solicit donations for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, according to the Washington Post. Some Alabama voters got similar mailers, according to AL.com.

Meanwhile, Facebook recently announced its social media sites would ban posts that attempt to interfere with the count.

Oswaldo Alvarez and Marishonta Wilkerson, directors of the Illinois Census Office, said they’re not aware of deliberate misinformation being spread in the state.

Illinois gave out tens of millions of dollars to groups to encourage census participation. Alvarez said the state has been working closely with them to make sure they all have the same information — and that the information is correct.

“[It’s about] giving them the consistent, the same information from the timeline to the number of questions, to tools on how to reduce people's fears,” he said.

Jay Young, director of Common Cause Illinois — a civic engagement nonprofit, agreed that’s important. Still, he warned just because the state office and advocates like him haven’t heard of misleading information floating around, it could still be out there.

“We have to make sure that folks remain vigilant and are aware of the good information,” he said.

The U.S. Census Bureau set up an email address, rumors@census.gov, for people to report questionable information.

Meanwhile, Young said groups that want to encourage participation can find resources on the bureau’s website, the state portal Illinois Count Me In, and a national collaborative called Census Counts.

Points Of Confusion

The two state census directors said they have gotten questions about other points of confusion around the population count set to start this year.

This includes questions on the American Community Survey, a more in-depth questionnaire that the U.S. Census Bureau sends out throughout the year.

“When it comes to specifically the immigrant communities, the American Community Survey does ask the question of citizenship, while the actual census form will not,” Alvarez said.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled the question should be left off the 2020 form, after a request by the Trump administration to include it.

Alvarez said he wanted to be sure residents understand that they’ll get reminders to fill out the form online starting in March, but if they don’t respond by early April, they’ll also get paper copies to fill out.

After that attempt, census enumerators will attempt to count the household through personal visits in May.

Young said the best way to avoid a knock at the door is to fill out the census form online.

The Census Bureau is also hiring more than 18,000 enumerators to assist in the count in Illinois. The pay is between $17 and $29 per hour.

Wilkerson said for those receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, SNAP and other public benefits, income from census work will not affect their eligibility for those programs.

The count starts in January with people in nursing homes, college dorms and other group settings. Residents can expect their first invitation to fill out the census form online in March.

In addition to giving out millions to local groups, Illinois is hiring a marketing firm to do a statewide public education campaign on the 2020 census. Alvarez said he expects that to start in early 2020.

Mary Hansen is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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