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Plea from Baltimore Mayor Jack Young to city residents: Don’t get left out of the census count | COMMENTARY

A billboard on Route 40 in Joppa reminds Harford County residents to respond to the 2020 U.S. Census.
A billboard on Route 40 in Joppa reminds Harford County residents to respond to the 2020 U.S. Census. (Courtesy Harford County Government)

Time is running out for Baltimore residents to get counted.

The U.S. Census Bureau recently announced an expedited census response timeline due to the ongoing challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. All federal census outreach efforts were to conclude on Oct. 31. Last week, the Census Bureau abandoned this plan and will now conclude activities on Sept. 30, 2020.

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This arbitrary change has been widely condemned by census experts including four past directors of the agency. This change serves no purpose other than to further inhibit the success of one of the most historically challenging census counts in our nation’s history.

But we can’t let that stand in the way of making sure Baltimore’s population number is accurately recorded and risk losing millions of dollars in funding that is tied to census data.

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Baltimore’s census household response rate is around 53% and our pre-COVID-19 goal is to reach a 73% response rate. The city has a long way to go in a shortened period of time. Now that we know our federal partners will have limited follow up with Baltimore’s uncounted households, our city’s Complete Count Committee and outreach staff will step up our efforts with community organizations and other partners to make sure we count every household possible.

Historically, Baltimore is undercounted, which leads to underrepresentation. For every person uncounted in the census, the city leaves $1,800 of federal funding on the table each year, amounting to $18,000 per person over 10 years. Responses to the census will determine how more than $675 billion nationally in public funding flows into community services, health clinics, Head Start programs, historically Black colleges and universities, Community Development Block Grants, programs that support minority-owned businesses, and many other areas needed to help our residents.

As the only major city in the state of Maryland, we should compare Baltimore’s response rate to other major urban jurisdictions with historically hard-to-count populations. Currently, Baltimore’s response rate is higher than Philadelphia; Wilmington, Delaware; Providence, Rhode Island; Detroit and Cleveland. It is just behind Los Angeles and its 53.3% rate, and Boston’s rate of 53.8%.

Our Complete Count Committee has shown tremendous creativity and flexibility as they work to adjust many outreach efforts for today’s social distancing reality. We want to keep people safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, we have come to a point where targeted canvassing in our lowest responding communities — and those often most in need of programs dependent on federal funding — may be the very best option available. We have seen tremendous upticks with targeted outreach in West Baltimore and will be expanding those efforts across the city this weekend.

Canvassing efforts will touch Broadway East — home to the lowest response census tract in the city — as well as areas throughout northeast and Southeast Baltimore. Each weekend until the end of September, elected leaders and volunteers will reach out to low-response communities to increase our household response rates.

The city needs particular help in some key communities with encouraging neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family members to be counted. Those neighborhoods are Easterwood, Coppin Heights, Midtown-Edmondson, Harlem Park, Parkview/Woodbrook, Milton-Montford, Madison-Eastend, Oliver, and Baltimore Highlands. Residents can complete the census form online at my2020census.gov or by phone at 844-330-2020. The online form is comprised of nine questions, takes less than 10 minutes to complete, and is available in 13 languages. Learn more at census2020.baltimorecity.gov.

Through our myriad challenges, Baltimore never gives up, never gives in and cannot afford to be counted out.

Bernard C. “Jack” Young is the mayor of Baltimore. His email address is mayor@baltimorecity.gov and Twitter is @mayorbcyoung.

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