Groups Question Whether There’s Enough Money For Extended Census Outreach In Illinois

Cinthya Rodriguez conducts census outreach on Chicago’s East Side
Cinthya Rodriguez, director of organizing for Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, an immigrant workers group based in Chicago’s East Side community, is seen here on June 17, 2020. Rodriguez’s group is one of many organizations doing census outreach. Rodriguez said the ruling by a federal judge to extend the census counting period to Oct. 31 is a “victory” for community groups. Esther Yoon-Ji Kang / WBEZ News
Cinthya Rodriguez conducts census outreach on Chicago’s East Side
Cinthya Rodriguez, director of organizing for Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, an immigrant workers group based in Chicago’s East Side community, is seen here on June 17, 2020. Rodriguez’s group is one of many organizations doing census outreach. Rodriguez said the ruling by a federal judge to extend the census counting period to Oct. 31 is a “victory” for community groups. Esther Yoon-Ji Kang / WBEZ News

Groups Question Whether There’s Enough Money For Extended Census Outreach In Illinois

A federal judge has ordered the 2020 census count to continue through Oct. 31, one month later than the deadline imposed by the Trump administration. Local groups doing census outreach in Chicago said the news is welcome but it complicates their work to get residents to participate.

U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in the Northern District of California issued the preliminary injunction, ruling that the Trump administration’s attempt to shorten the counting timeline to Sept. 30 would result in an undercount, especially among people of color and immigrants. The Trump administration has appealed. In addition to pushing back the counting deadline, Koh also blocked the census bureau from delivering the final count to President Trump on Dec. 31, in favor of the April 2021, pandemic-adjusted deadline.

The court’s decision is a “victory that validates the work the community has been doing to make sure underrepresented groups are accurately counted,” said Cinthya Rodriguez, director of organizing for Centro de Trabajadores Unidos, an immigrant workers group based in Chicago’s East Side community.

She said despite the Trump administration’s potential appeal, she hopes the count can continue through Oct. 31, as her community has been ravaged by COVID-19 as well as two recent raids by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that have “created a new wave of fear and anxiety amongst our community.”

Johnny L. Banks Sr., executive director of the Englewood group A Knock At Midnight, said while he was “elated” about the court’s ruling, he was concerned about state funding for the census outreach work.

“One of the things we’ve got to look at now is, are there going to be resources available for us to complete the work?” Banks said. “With us having a [previous] deadline of Sept. 30, all the funding was going to be exhausted at the end of the month.”

He wondered if there would be additional funds from the state to continue getting the word out about the census in Englewood. Among tracts in the neighborhood, self-response rates are as low as 26%. Banks said outreach workers from his group have been going door to door and setting up posts at bus stops and grocery stores to encourage and help residents fill out the census.

This outreach work throughout the state has been funded by a combination of both private and state funds. Through the Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), the state doled out nearly $20 million in grants to groups to help boost census participation.

WBEZ reached out to IDHS to ask whether the state would provide additional funding for groups to continue outreach through October. IDHS issued a statement in response without directly addressing the question about additional funding.

“We are proud of the strong and positive partnerships we have with more than 300 organizations across the state that are helping to reach hard-to-count communities and ensure that everyone is counted,” the statement read.

“We continue the call to action to get every Illinois resident across the state counted in the 2020 Census,” the statement continued. “We are fully committed to get more people counted and we need to do so to make a difference in schools, hospitals, and services across Illinois.”

Maria Fitzsimmons, census director for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR), said it is unclear whether the state would release more funds. ICIRR is one of two dozen regional intermediaries in charge of partnering with smaller organizations to do census outreach funded by the state.

“Anybody might hear this and think, ‘Oh, there’s an extension to the deadline, that gives you more time to do the work.’” Fitzsimmons said. “It’s not as simple as that.”

“All the back-and-forth about the deadline adds to a sense of uncertainty and distress,” Fitzsimmons said. “People become more skeptical and less sure about the security of their data and the importance of the activity.”

According to Fitzsimmons, the extension wasn’t the only benefit of the legal battle over the census deadline. That fight was useful in bringing to light “the Trump administration’s political machinations to undercount … immigrants and refugees and people of color,” Fitzsimmons said. “I’m very grateful for the information, the emails and documents that came to light through the court process.”

Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.