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Springfield Launches Campaign To Encourage Census Participation

Mary Hansen
NPR Illinois
Springfield economic development director Val Yazell talks about the importance of the 2020 census at an event on Tuesday.

Springfield officials want to make sure all residents participate in the upcoming census count.

The population count begins in March, when residents will get a letter asking them to fill out an online form about their household.

Representatives from city government, schools, and social service agencies gathered Tuesday to talk about why the census is important for Springfield.

“As a city, a municipality doesn't matter if it's the city of Springfield, or any municipality in the state of Illinois or across the country, we have to provide the resources to our public,” said Mayor Jim Langfelder. “And that's what this is all about making sure that we have the financial resources that are due to us based on our populations.”

Census data determine how more than $650 billion in federal funds are divided up for school nutrition programs, housing assistance, health insurance for kids, special education services, transportation projects and more. It’s also used to draw legislative maps and determine congressional representation. Illinois is at risk of losing one seat after the 2020 count, going from 18 representatives to 17.

Val Yazell, Springfield’s economic development director, chairs the local Complete Count Commission, a coalition of groups working to encourage local participation in the count. She said the group has heard concerns about how the government will use the information they provide.

“Your information cannot be shared with immigration officials,” she said. “It cannot be shared with law enforcement, and they cannot use it to make a decision as to whether you would receive any sorts of benefits.”

Springfield’s marketing campaign, using the slogan “Count Us In Springfield,” will include billboards and social media ads. The city is paying for it with money from a $50,000 state grant.

Illinois set aside $29 million in this year’s budget to boost census participation. The state is looking for a contractor now to execute a statewide marketing campaign.

The last U.S. census count missed nearly a million young children, often because their parents didn’t know they’re supposed to include them when they fill out the decennial survey.

School District 186 Superintendent Jennifer Gill said she wants to make sure all children are counted in the 2020 census.

“Many of our families District 186 rely on these programs,” she said. “So we need to make sure they’re counted and that everyone who needs these benefits is able to receive them.”

Gill said the district plans to open the schools on certain evenings for people to fill out the forms there.

Springfield communications director Julia Frevert said the city will host similar “Population Pop-Ups” around the city for people to attend and fill out the census forms.

Mary Hansen is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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