With just a few weeks to go in the census 2020 decennial count, the state government is feeling the urgency to step in for the first time to “educate Texans on the significance and value of participating in the census.”

In the meantime, the city of Denton Complete (Census) Count Committee (DCCC), guided by its Census 2020 Work Plan, launched its multifaceted Census Awareness Campaign in early spring prior to the COVID-19 major outbreak.

Once COVID reached a crisis level, the committee was forced to make major adaptations to the original census operational plan to protect the health and safety of committee members and to make sure our “out–of-the-box” strategies aggressively targeted all demographic groups. These included, but were not limited to, outreach to the most vulnerable groups such as homeless populations, seniors, college students, non-English-speaking immigrant communities and economically disadvantaged groups. The committee also has collaborated with staff personnel from the U.S. Census Office in working toward the all-important goal of ensuring a complete and accurate count of all local population groups.

The Denton CCC and participating city partners, such as North Central Texas College, Texas Woman’s University and the University of North Texas, Denton ISD, area church groups, the Denton Housing Authority, the two Denton La Azteca stores, Serve Denton, the food pantry and civic service groups such as LULAC, Rotary and Kiwanis, all have played an important role in the comprehensive outreach stressing the message that the 2020 census is easy, important, safe and confidential.

As an incentive for residents to complete the census form and bolster participation rates, the census 2020 online response option is being used for the first time this year in addition to the standard postal mail and telephone choices of response used in the 2010 census. To accommodate non-English-speaking populations, the census is available in 13 languages.

As a final thrust in maximizing the count, federally employed census takers are now visiting homes to help non-respondents with their questionnaires.

How are we doing so far? The best available information that provides us with some measure of our progress is the aggregated census participation rates reported by the Census Bureau for Denton County, which is 69.7%. Texas is at 60.5%, and the nation as a whole is at 65%.

Although these data show our county exceeding census outcome stats for both the state and the nation, this offers us no cause for celebration based on similar 2010 data reported by state Rep. Lynn Stucky in his Denton Record-Chronicle guest essay on Feb. 24. He reminds us that in 2010, Denton County’s final participation rates for the census were slightly above the state average at 76% and 71%, respectively.

Based on an analysis by the George Washington Institute, the Texas 2010 1% population undercount “cost Texans approximately $300 million in federal dollars, or about $1,161 per person. This underfunding, according to Stucky, “amounts to a shortfall in funds for Medicaid, improving the city’s infrastructure, social support services, federally funded school programs, such as Title I, special education, free and reduced lunch programs and more.” A shallow count could also affect the fair representation of our population in the Texas Legislature and the U.S. Congress.

For fast-growth cities like Denton and North Texas counties and communities, an undercount could severely impact how we will be able to adequately accommodate and serve the yearly addition of new families and children to the region’s population, including funding for one of the most important items on the priority list, public education.

Time is running out to ensure we, in Texas, are prepared for the many opportunities and benefits this state has to offer. In their June column in The Dallas Morning News, Tom Luce and Margaret Spellings write that education is key to the state’s prosperity:

“It’s Texas’ people who will lead the state out of this pandemic and economic crisis. And it’s people who must perpetuate the economic prosperity that has fueled Texas’ quality of life for generations.”

The census is about producing a maximum, if not a complete, data yield for the many nonpartisan reasons that benefit our city and state. There just too much at stake for our city and county not to mobilize once more as we near the Sept. 30 census count expiration date. We need a “full court press” performance now in the Denton 2020 census operation.

Individuals and community groups can help our committee by educating residents of the importance of the census and that it’s not too late to complete the census. The two most accessible and quick and easy to complete methods to complete the survey form is through either the online option via www.2020census.gov or by phone: in English, 1-844-330-2020, or Spanish, 1-844-468-2020.

The opportunity to be counted only happens once every 10 years. Let’s not ignore what the data shows us. So let’s all take action and make sure everyone counts!

For more information about the census, visit 2020census.gov, or email census.partners@census.gov.

RUDY RODRÍGUEZ is the co-chair of the Census 2020 Denton Complete Count Committee. He was also chair of the 2010 Denton CCC and is a former member of the Denton ISD Board of Trustees.

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