The Countdown to Census 2020 Begins Today

By Rebekah Seder
Senior Program Manager
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Census Day is now one year away – and the time to act is now.

A fair and accurate census is critical to the future of our region. Data from the census are used to allocate political representation at the federal and state levels, and to determine billions in federal funding for a host of essential programs, including Medicaid, SNAP, housing vouchers, Head Start, and much more. (Check out these fact sheets from George Washington University to see just how much funding is at stake in DC, Maryland, and Virginia.) Census data drive decisions that impact our lives in countless ways, from where businesses choose to locate, to where bus routes operate, health clinics open, and housing is built.

Most importantly, a fair and accurate census is about equity. Those most at risk of not being counted are those communities that are already the most marginalized in our region due to a history of structural racism and inequitable policies. People of color, immigrants, young children, and low-income families lose political voice and access to resources – power and money – when they aren’t counted. (Explore this map to see where the hardest-to-count census tracts are in our region.)

All of this is compounded in 2020 as actions at the federal level, including the attempt to add an unnecessary citizenship question to the census form, have created a climate of fear that will suppress census completion among communities that have the most at stake. The shift to an online form will also suppress the count among low-income households and others affected by the digital divide.

What WRAG is doing

Since June 2018, WRAG has convened a 2020 Census Working Group of funders interested in strategically supporting the census count in the region. The group meets regularly to share information and get updates from U.S. Census Bureau officials and their counterparts responsible for census activities at the state level in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Many working group members are developing grantmaking and non-grantmaking strategies to support outreach to hard-to-count communities and to amplify the work of Complete Count Committees – cross-sector groups made up of local government representatives and trusted civic leaders that are activating to get out the count in their respective jurisdictions.

In addition, WRAG, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, and 13 foundations and other organizations are co-sponsoring a convening later this spring to mobilize key community stakeholders and elevate effective strategies for ensuring that those communities most likely to be missed by the census are counted.

How to get involved

WRAG Members: Contact Rebekah Seder to join WRAG’s 2020 Census Working Group and get connected with other funders already taking action. Check out the Funders Census Initiative, convened by the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation, for a comprehensive toolkit for philanthropic action and other resources on the census.

Nonprofit partners: Advocacy and direct service organizations can educate, encourage, and enable their constituents to complete the census. Get involved with your local Complete Count Committee to support outreach activities in your community. Talk to your funders about what kinds of support your organization needs to participate in census-related activities.

Progress toward our vision of an equitable region is impossible without a fair and accurate census. We all have a role to play to ensure that everyone in our region is counted. The clock is ticking.