During a discussion at the Tuesday noon meeting of the Vermillion City Council of the efforts currently being taken by the community to motivate Vermillion citizens to respond to the upcoming 2020 Census questionnaire, City Council member Julia Hellwege expressed a concern that she believes could greatly diminish the push for greater participation.

There are no people of color, she noted, on the Clay County Complete Count Committee (CCC) designed to increase awareness of the upcoming 2020 Census.

“I’m not entirely convinced that our committee is very diverse,” she said. “Although we know that students are a big concern in terms of being undercounted, we also know that people of color are highly likely to not be counted as well.

“My concern is that now with an online Census, that we’re going to struggle with response rates and those people who are the least likely to be self-motivated, to self-select to do an online Census are also the people who are people of color as well as lower income and some of that is correlated, and there is some particular concern about Native Americans in our community,” Hellwege said, “and there are no Native Americans on the committee.”

People are more likely to become engaged, she said, if there are people who look like them who ask them to become engaged.

“That’s what concerns me about the diversity,” Hellwege said. “I would like us to consider -- even if we don’t have someone on the committee -- to at least have a liason … who can help us to have a good count of that community. Again, even if we have all of the volunteer locations, that’s more of a volunteer location to go get help with the Census and maybe those who use the public library or get their utility bills will pay attention to that, but some people don’t look at their utility bills … and so I have a great concern that we aren’t going to reach a huge chunk of the most vulnerable populations who are in the greatest need of getting counted. I would like us to spend a little more thought on that.”

Hellwege’s comments about volunteer locations and utility bills were in reference to a presentation moments before by Assistant City Manager James Purdy, who spelled out a variety of steps Vermillion is taking to encourage citizen participation in the 2020 Census.

The U.S. Census Bureau is the federal government’s largest statistical agency and is dedicated to providing current facts and figures about America’s people, places, and economy. Federal law protects the confidentiality of all individual responses the Census Bureau collects. The U.S. Constitution requires that each decade a count—or a census—of America’s population is taken.

The census provides vital information. It determines how many representatives each state gets in Congress and is used to redraw district boundaries. Redistricting counts are sent to the states by March 31, 2021.

Communities rely on census statistics to plan for a variety of resident needs including new roads, schools, and emergency services.

Businesses use census data to determine where to open places to shop. Each year, the federal government distributes more than $675 billion to states and communities based on Census Bureau data.

This year, the Census Bureau is implementing new technology designed to make it easier for people to respond to the census. Citizens will be able to respond online, by phone, as well as by mail.

According to Census Bureau publications, the bureau is building an accurate address list and automating its field operations while keeping people’s information confidential and safe.

“There is a Complete Count Committee (CCC) here in our community that’s working hard to get the word out about the census and to help organize efforts to increase awareness about the census and to motivate and assist residents to complete their census questionnaire,” Assistant City Manager James Purdy told the city council.

He described the CCC as diverse, with each commission member being assigned a specific work plan.

Commission members are Purdy and City Manager John Prescott, representing the city of Vermillion, Superintendent Damon Alvey of the Vermillion School District, Katie Heine of the Vermillion Chamber and Development Company (VCDC), Ed Gerrish, Scott Pohlson, Hailie Warren and SGA representatives from the University of South Dakota, Steve Ford of Grace Baptist Church, Kelsey Collier-Wise, a city alderman who is executive director of the United Way of Vermillion, Clay County Commissioner Richard Hammond, Deb Christensen of Bank of the West, Lori Whitman of Maloney Real Estate and Dan Burniston of the Vermillion Public Library.

The city of Vermillion’s work plan, Purdy said, includes adding 2020 Census information to utility bills next month, adding census information to the city website, and creating a 2020 Census slide for cable channel 3.

The city will also announce a proclamation promoting the census next month and will add the census logo to official agendas.

Vermillion will also be proving Census assistance sites.

“For the first time ever, the Census is going to be available online. It’s the fastest, most efficient way to complete your questionnaire, which is a nine-question questionnaire about who basically resides in your household,” he said.

Not all Vermillion households have access to the internet, and some older citizens may not be comfortable or familiar with computer technology.

“We’re planning on having these assistant sites located throughout the city and county,” Purdy said.

The centers will be located at the finance office in city hall, the Community Connection Center, the Clay County Courthouse, a place on the USD campus -- likely the MUC, the Vermillion Public Library, the Main Street Center and The Heights.

“We’ve been fairly aggressive in sharing census material on social media and just discussing the census. The census doesn’t want us to get too intense about the census because they feel there’s a line between getting people worn out on the census and getting them excited about it. We’re trying to respect that line.”

The census questionnaire will become available online on March 12.

“I think after that date, you’ll see a more significant presence from us,” he said, “on social media pages.”

An assistant center will be located at The Heights to hopefully boost university student participation in the census, which historically has been low.

“The students that have their housing through the university, whether that’s dormitories or fraternities and sororities, are automatically counted,” Purdy said, “because the university submits its own report for the census. But, it’s the off-campus students that we need to make sure we’re getting.”

The Heights, he said, is a place where the city believes it can a good number of USD students to participate.

The Vermillion City Council can help, Purdy said, by volunteering at the assistant centers and spreading the word about the census throughout the community.

Local efforts to spread the word include the Feb. 13 unveiling of a Census marketing video by the VCDC. The CCC also plans to appear at the Feb. 26 UpNEXT Coffee Hour.

Purdy will speak about local Census efforts at the March 1 meeting of the Vermillion Rotary Club and representatives from the Census Office and CCC will be present at the March 19 VCDC luncheon at RED Steakhouse.

April 1 is the kickoff date for the 2020 Census and the day will include coffee and donuts at The Heights and perhaps kickoff activities at the Main Street Center and the Vermillion Public Library later that day.


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