March 18, 2010 | Maryland Community Newspapers Online | Original Article

Residents urged to participate in Census 2010

Inspired by a Census 2010 outreach event he attended in January, Jimmie Curley has been distributing bags, mugs and other items emblazoned with Census 2010 logos everywhere he goes, from a laundromat in Clinton to a business meeting in Greenbelt.

Curley lives in Washington, D.C., but is an active member of the Greater Refuge Ministry Church in Clinton and its surrounding community. He said he has spoken to at least 200 people about the decennial count, which is taking place this month.

"It's important to me," he said. "It means we can get better representation, we can get better funding for the things we're trying to do."

An estimated 326,000 households in Prince George's County will receive a form from the U.S. Census Bureau in the mail this week. This year's form features 10 questions that will determine how many people live in each household, as well as other basic information such as age, gender and race.

Throughout March and into April — the Census Bureau is encouraging residents to mail back the form by April 1, but will accept them for several weeks after that date — concerned residents such as Curley are stepping up outreach efforts to make sure every member of their community is counted.

Citing the $400 billion in annual federal funding distributed to states, counties and other municipalities based on census data, the Rev. Tony Lee of Community of Hope AME Church in Temple Hills said he has been emphasizing participation to his congregants and handing out information packets they received from the Census Bureau.

"That's how resources are allocated to our community," he said. "People need to understand the impact of the census and that they need to be counted."

In 2000, Prince George's County had a participation rate of 68 percent, below the national rate of 72 percent and the state rate of 74 percent, according to data from the Census Bureau. However, a number of communities had participation rates as low as 60 or 50 percent, including neighborhoods in the Temple Hills, Landover, Riverdale and Langley Park areas.

The county loses out on about $1,000 annually in federal funding for each person who is not counted, according to Cheryl Harrington, coordinator of the Prince George's County Complete Count Committee, which is run by the county Planning Department. She said she did not know how much the county had lost out on in federal funding due to undercounting in the 2000 Census.

Harrington has attributed low participation in general to a lack of education about why the government takes the census and how it can affect federal funding and political representation for communities. She said some residents may have feared an invasion of their privacy during previous counts, and the Census Bureau's $340 million national Census 2010 outreach campaign has stressed that the data is kept confidential, and individual records cannot be accessed for 72 years.

Beyond traditionally hard-to-count communities, activists and leaders in the county's growing immigrant communities have also been emphasizing participation. Language barriers and a concern that the information will be used to find undocumented immigrants have hurt participation in the past, said Marino Cordoba, a spokesman for the Planning Department who is also spearheading the Latino Subcommittee of the Prince George's County Complete Count Committee.

"We want all the members of the community to understand that we are living there and working together to improve our community life," he said.

Cordoba added that he anticipates this year's count will show a rise in the county's Hispanic immigrant population, because of increased immigration to the region and also more efforts to boost participation.

The population of county residents of any race reporting Hispanic origin increased from 4.1 percent in the 1990 Census to 7.1 percent in the 2000 Census. The Hispanic population increased to 12.2 percent, or about 100,900 residents, in the 2006-2008 American Community Survey, which is conducted each year by the Census Bureau but is less comprehensive than the decennial census.

The subcommittee has arranged for materials to be printed in Spanish and recently met with Hispanic church and community leaders to coordinate outreach efforts, he said.

Chuks Eleonu, president of African Peoples Action Congress, a Centreville, Va.-based nonprofit organization that aids African immigrant and refugee communities, said his organization has translated the form into five languages common among African immigrants — Amharic, Arabic, Somali, Swahili and French, so far — and posted them on the organization's Web site.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated in 2008 that African immigrants made up about 26 percent of Prince George's immigrant population and about 4.7 percent of the total county population.

Eleonu said African immigrants, much like Hispanic immigrants, are often hesitant to participate because they fear how the government will use the information. Convincing them that their citizenship is not in question and that the government will not abuse the information is at the core of their mission, he said.

Although individuals must be at least 15 years old to fill out the form, the Complete Count Committee is also promoting the census in public schools in hopes that students will encourage their parents or guardians to fill out the form. Students will not only learn about the census in class, but also receive materials to take home and complete census-related activities, such as making census posters or conducting an informal count of the student body.

At Templeton Elementary School in Bladensburg, which hosted the kickoff event March 3 for the county's Census in Schools initiative, fourth-grader Christian Elcorrobarrutia, 10, of Riverdale said he learned about the census in class and had already discussed participation with his parents.

"They said they were going to [fill out the form]," he said, adding that when the form does arrive, "I will say, ‘Did you get the form? Fill it out right now.'"