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Northeast Ohio Nonprofits Join Call To Keep Original Census Deadline

A sample census form from 2010. [rblfmr / Shutterstock]
A sample census form from 2010.

More than 500 philanthropic organizations nationwide have signed a letter asking the U.S. Census Bureau to allow more time for the 2020 census, including several local groups, after the bureau recently announced it would end the count a month earlier than planned.

Among the Northeast Ohio organizations signed the letter were the Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation in Cleveland, Cleveland Foundation, Akron Community Foundation and George Gund Foundation.

“We urge the Census Bureau to maintain its constitutional responsibilities to enumerate every household that has not responded on its own, in order to achieve a fair and accurate count,” the letter says. “Given the pandemic, there is every reason to believe the Census Bureau will need to collect data through October 31, a date the Census Bureau itself had earlier announced was needed to meet its obligations.”

The census determines where federal resources go, said Jennifer Lumpkin, civic engagement strategist for Cleveland VOTES, including federal funding, congressional district lines and more.

“The impact that we’ve really been stressing is that it would hurt a huge range of folks in our communities, leaving them really underrepresented with regards to funding,” Lumpkin said.

Last month, an update on the count showed Cleveland with the lowest response rate among the nation’s largest cities. Just under 47 percent of city residents had completed their forms, putting Cleveland at  68th out of 68 cities with a population of 300,000 or more.

Cleveland VOTES has received grants from the Gund Foundation, and is leading census efforts in the region as part of the Ohio Census Advocacy Coalition and the Complete Count Committee for Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.

The pandemic has made it more difficult to motivate residents to participate, Lumpkin said.

“They know that it’s necessary, they know that it’s needed, but getting folks to put the census at the top of their priority amongst the pandemic and the number of other issues like employment has been a challenge,” Lumpkin said.

Volunteers have found additional difficulties, she said, such as those trying to complete the census by phone running into additional delays due to staffing shortages.

“The deployment of the U.S. Census Bureau to have folks readily available on staff to answer those calls hasn’t really been met,” Lumpkin said. “The time extension would have given folks more time because they would have had a response from the U.S. Census Bureau, as well.”

The 2020 census is set to end Sept. 30.