United Way responds to removal of citizenship question from 2020 Census

Heart of West Michigan United Way is the Census Hub for Kent County.

Heart of West Michigan United Way is the Census Hub for Kent County.

Last night, the Trump administration announced that it would begin printing 2020 Census forms without the controversial “citizenship question.” Advocates around the country and some states had challenged the decision to include the question over concerns that, as the Commerce Department concluded, the question could be a “major barrier” to non-citizens participating in the Census.

“This is the outcome we were hoping for,” said Robert McKown, senior director of community impact at Heart of West Michigan United Way.

When it comes to Census data, the stakes are high. Data collected during the last Census guided $29.2 billion in federal program spending in Michigan in 2016.

“A complete and accurate Census count is important for our community for so many reasons,” McKown said. “It affects federal funding, state and local funding, and representation in Congress. We’re relieved that this question won’t appear on the Census because it increases the likelihood of a complete count.”

A citizenship question like the one proposed by the current administration has not been a feature of the short-form Census questionnaire since 1950. The short-form questionnaire is sent to all U.S. households and is used to establish a count of all people living in the U.S. From 1970 to 2000, a long-form version of the Census was sent to 1 in 6 households and asked additional questions on a range of topics including income, education, commuting habits, household utility use, and citizenship. (In 2005, the long-form Census was replaced by the annual American Community Survey.)

In other words, the federal government has not relied on the standard Census form to collect citizenship data for decades.

“This outcome doesn’t remove all the barriers to getting a complete count,” McKown said. “There is still a lot of work ahead of us, but the amount of support for this effort in our community is very encouraging.”

Members of the mini-grant evaluation committee met at United Way in May to discuss proposals from local agencies for Census outreach.

Members of the mini-grant evaluation committee met at United Way in May to discuss proposals from local agencies for Census outreach.

As the Census Hub for Kent County, Heart of West Michigan United Way is a leader in the Michigan Nonprofits Count Campaign, an initiative to encourage participation in the 2020 Census. In this capacity United Way is awarding mini-grants to 19 local agencies for Census outreach to populations who are at risk of an undercount. Historically undercounted groups include people of color, low-income households, older adults, LGBTQ community members, young children, people with limited English, people experiencing homelessness, and immigrants and their families.

To learn more about United Way’s role in Census 2020 and why the Census matters for our community, visit https://www.hwmuw.org/census-hub.