Two community activists have started an initiative urging local people most at risk of being missed by the 2020 census to ensure they are counted.
To spread the word about the importance of participating in the census, Santa Fe Community College student Sage Bird and Karl Tacheron, who has worked in community outreach with United Way of Santa Fe County, have been setting up tables outside Walmart stores and high school basketball games.
They’ve also gone door-to-door through public housing complexes and have visited homeless shelters, distributing flyers about the census, using simple language and images for residents who struggle with literacy.
Their effort is targeting ethnic and religious minority groups, members of the LGBTQ community, senior citizens, disabled residents, homeless individuals and others.
“A lot of us have been invisible in the past because we didn’t get counted,” Bird said. “It’s about civil rights and the deprivation of resources.”
Earlier this month, the two launched a website for their campaign: BeCountedNM2020.com.
The activists are part of a statewide effort to increase participation in the national count, which takes place every 10 years and is used to determine how much federal funding the state may receive for a wide range of services.
According to New Mexico Counts 2020, a statewide outreach campaign with a mission similar to that of Bird and Tacheron’s, about 2 percent of the state’s population wasn’t counted in 2010. A similar undercount this year could cost the state nearly $1.5 billion in funding for food assistance, Medicaid, education, transportation and other programs over the next decade.
Bird said BeCountedNM2020 received a $7,000 grant from New Mexico Counts, which is supported by both nonprofit and government dollars.
Earlier this month, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 4, appropriating $8 million from the state general fund to boost census outreach efforts.
Bird — who said she grew up watching her mother organize communities to push for better schools and roads in Venezuela — and Tacheron said they are focusing their message on the risk of lost services rather than dollar signs as a way to better connect with residents.
“I’m deeply invested in this cause because I see a need for these services in our community,” Bird said.
“Saying the state government loses money when people don’t get counted isn’t really effective,” Tacheron added. “So I think it’s important to focus on social justice. We’re talking about more money for schools, more money for all the nice things in our communities that we share.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, every household on its residential address list will receive an invitation in March to participate in the census online. A reminder will be sent the following month before the Census Bureau begins sending paper census forms to households that have not responded.
After that, government contractors hit the streets with clipboards to visit homes and help residents who have not responded fill out forms.