Coronavirus Has Canceled a Lot of Stuff—But Not the Census
Getting bored after being cooped up at home for days on end? Here’s a fun activity: fill out your census form.
Back in the days before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools, restaurants, and offices around the state, a hardy band of data wonks (who all happen to be women of color) was gearing up for a multimillion-dollar effort to get all Oregonians to fill out their census form, with a particular focus on the hardest-to-count populations: immigrants, non-English speakers, people of color, renters, children, and those experiencing homelessness.
They’d planned an ambitious slate of events, including thousands of home visits, a carefully orchestrated campaign that’s been utterly dismantled by coronavirus’s sweep through the state.
But here’s the rub: because of coronavirus, the census matters more than ever.
When the public health crisis ends—as it will, someday, because everything ends—there could be many, many more Oregonians in need of public services, from food stamps to Section 8 housing vouchers, given the immense toll that coronavirus is taking on the state’s economy.
“People that were already struggling are going to be struggling even more,” says Mandy Yeahpau, communications director for We Count Oregon. “That trickles down to everybody. It is more critical than ever that people fill in the census so we have a better understanding of who will be using these programs and services based on this data.”
In a spectacular bit of bad timing, census forms went out on March 12, just as the concern and panic over coronavirus kicked into the highest of gears statewide. And a delay is not really an option right now, given that the census is an every-10-years constitutional mandate, a count of the country that’s used to apportion federal dollars and determine political representation in Congress. (Oregon is in line to gain a sixth congressional seat, given population gains since 2010, but that depends upon an accurate count.)
All’s not lost, Yeahpau said. Oregonians who are working from home and practicing social isolation may have more time to fill in their forms; new this year, you can also respond to the census online or via phone.
Field workers are staffing regular phone and texting banks to get the word out, Yeahpau says, and partner organizations are handing out promotional materials when families come to pick up free meals from schools, and at homeless shelters. (They've even produced a rad coloring book for kids—have them color while you fill out the form.)
We Count Oregon is also shifting its messaging resources, putting more funds into pushing out alerts on social media and via radio ads, among other outlets, in hopes of reaching homebound populations when door-knocking is no longer an option.
For more info: 2020Census.gov or call 844-330-2020.
Got a story for us? Get in touch with News Editor Julia Silverman at [email protected] or on Twitter @jrlsilverman.