What people don’t know about the 2020 census could cost Michigan $1 billion

Forgetting to fill out the 2020 Census could be an $18,000 mistake.

Chloe Updegraff, the Census Hub Coordinator for the Great Lakes Bay Region, warns that even one person not completing the census costs the region thousands of dollars. Across the state, even a 1% undercount would cost Michigan $1 billion in federal funding.

Chloe Updegraff is the newly appointed Census Hub Coordinator for the Great Lakes Bay Region“On an individual level, for each person who does not take the census in our state, we lose $1,800. That amount is multiplied by the 10-year period of the census and multiplied by each person who does not take part,” says Updegraff. “We have so much at stake, but with the right partnerships, training, and grant funds toward a good count, we can really give our region a voice.”

The 2020 census has a major effect on programs in Bay County and across the Great Lakes Bay Region.

Every ten years the United States Census Bureau counts each resident living in the country to determine the amount of federal funding for each state, county, and community. With over $800 billion in federal funding available each year, the census information is critical for many vital programs, including Medicaid, hospitals, schools, fire departments, food assistance, road construction, and more.

In mid-March, Bay County households will receive information in the mail about how to respond online, by phone, or on a paper survey. Responses are due in July 2020.

Changes to the way the information is collected this year has experts worried about an undercount.

For the first time ever, the census will be available to complete online. In an effort to reduce the cost of workers helping residents to fill out the form, the focus for the upcoming census will be to apply online, reducing regional and local census offices by 50 percent. The number of door-to-door visits will be scaled back as well.

While the form can still be completed by phone or mail, the shift in strategy has many concerned about a possible undercount. To combat this, the Bay Area Community Foundation partnered with other community foundations in the region to form the Great Lakes Bay Regional Census Hub. Through the hub, the foundations are working together to ensure an accurate count. That cooperation is key to success.

 “For the 2020 census, working with local non-profits, community organizations, and local government officials will be extremely important,” Updegraff said.

“People need to be aware that the census isn’t just data. It means real funding for all sorts of programs that people depend on. It means funding for our schools and their free or reduced lunch programs. It means funds to fix our roads. It’s our crucial representation in Washington D.C. and Lansing, both places where our region needs a voice.”

The Bay-Arenac ISD is another local group working to raise awareness for the upcoming census, The school district depends on an accurate count. The Bay-Arenac ISC contributes to the community in a number of ways including special education services, early childhood programs, adult education programs, and even home visiting programs. Funding for many of the group’s programs would become much harder to come by if an undercount occurs.

“We still have to provide all the same services. So regardless of a dip in funding, it just makes it much harder,” said Gretchen Wagner, director of Early Childhood Education at Bay-Arenac ISD.

As it is, the federal government doesn’t fully fund special education. We get creative as we need to for funding. We work with partners to help funding. We write grants – but, again, that’s like that trickle effect. We’re going write grants, but there might not be the funding to support the grants that we would need to go after to support the children in the community.”

To raise awareness for the upcoming census, Bay-Arenac ISD is supporting the third annual Family Winter Fun Fest event. The free event brings the community together with food, entertainment, and activities for the whole family. This year’s event will include information about the 2020 census and its impact on the area. The focus is on encouraging families to be counted.

“We know that young children and children in general are among the least counted. That’s why we’re really trying to use our office to get the word out and get counted,” said Wagner.

“It goes past just the education piece, but the Medicare/Medicaid pieces of it, the whole gambit. We can talk about it in a pocket of education, but in how all these other pieces around that child are impacted -- so housing, insurance, foster care, and all of that.”

The Family Winter Fun Fest event will be held at the Bay City Town Center on Feb. 22 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information on the 2020 Census Hub, visit the Midland Area Community Foundation website here and access the Census Toolkit to download shareable information for the community.

- Andrea Foster contributed to this article.


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