Nonprofits signing on to help ensure a complete census

U.S. Census Bureau

ENID, Okla. — With the 2020 Census approaching, nonprofits increasingly are being enlisted to help reach underrepresented populations and ensure each person is counted.

According to information provided by the Census Bureau, about 34% of Oklahomans — about 1.3 million people — live in hard-to-count neighborhoods, and as many as 37,600 Oklahoma residents may be undercounted in 2020.

Each person who goes uncounted accounts for about $1,675 in federal funding that won't be flowing into the state and into their local communities.

During a November visit to Enid, former Oklahoma representative Joe Dorman, chairman of Oklahoma Nonprofit Council Committee for the U.S. Census, said those most at-risk to go uncounted are children 0 to 5, highly mobile people, racial and ethnic minorities, non-English speakers, low-income people, people experiencing homelessness, undocumented immigrants, people who distrust the government, LGBTQ people, people with mental or physical disabilities and people who do not live in traditional housing.

Carrie Sanders, executive director of YWCA Enid and a member of Oklahoma Nonprofit Complete Count Committee through Oklahoma Department of Commerce, said nonprofits can fill a vital role in helping reach those underrepresented populations.

"The idea is that nonprofits already have a level of respect or rapport built with those populations," Sanders said, "so if we can encourage them to fill out their census information, they are more apt to do that."

And, for nonprofits like the YWCA, complete census data can have a significant impact on federal funding.

"It definitely affects our funding here," Sanders said, "because any nonprofit that gets federal grants, those grants are determined based in part on the makeup of the population they serve."

Lydia Kelley, executive director of Loaves & Fishes of Northwest Oklahoma, said the food resource center's clients fall squarely in the demographic at risk for going uncounted.

By helping educate them about the census, and connecting them with resources to complete it, Kelley said she and her staff hope to get all their clients counted.

"We feel like we're in a unique position to reach a hard-to-count population," Kelley said. "Hopefully, we can help count people who might not otherwise be counted, or may not even know they need to be counted."

Kelley said Loaves & Fishes still is refining plans for how to help people complete the census, but she hopes a complete census will "help make Enid a better place, but also expand and hopefully improve the services to those in need as well."

United Way of Enid & Northwest Oklahoma CEO and Executive Director Dan Schiedel said the impact of undercounting in the census wouldn't necessarily be felt in nonprofits' direct funding, as many no longer receive a significant portion of their funds from federal grants. But, he said it would impact other government-funded programs that affect the clients being served by local nonprofits.

And those negative effects, he said, would be felt disproportionately by children, the elderly and those living in poverty.

To better serve those at-risk populations, Schiedel said nonprofits need an accurate census.

"Healthy communities result in healthy nonprofits, and that's what it really comes down to," Schiedel said. "The research helps with health care, education, financial stability, hospitals, roads, bridges — all of it. It gives us good data that we can base decisions on that affect all of us in our communities."

Cheri Ezzell, executive director of Community Development Support Association, said getting a complete census would have good impacts for the Enid business community, which has indirect, but positive, implications for in-need populations.

"We'd like to get over that 50,000 population mark, because that attracts different segments of business to the community," Ezzell said. "I think we're there, if we counted everyone, but if you miss even 10%, we might not be."

New businesses mean more jobs, and more people "can be put to work and become self-sufficient," Ezzell said.

The U.S. Census Bureau expects to have census information mailed or emailed to all Oklahoma households on April 1. About 90% of Oklahoma households will be sent an invitation to complete the census information online, and 10% will be sent a paper copy of the survey to complete and mail back.

For more information on the 2020 Census, visit https://www.census.gov/en.html.

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at jamesrneal.com.
Have a question about this story? Do you see something we missed? Do you have a story idea for James? Send an email to jneal@enidnews.com.

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