The state’s Census Complete Count Committee is charged with an important task: making sure every Marylander is counted in the 2020 U.S. census.
But lawmakers on the committee have a concern. The committee, they say, isn’t doing its job.
With about $900,000 to spend, the committee has yet to create a budget or spending plan. And Marylanders are expected to begin responding to the census in just months.
Sen. Mary Washington of Baltimore and Del. Jheanelle Wilkins of Montgomery County, both Democrats, are members of the committee. At last week’s meeting they raised concerns about the lack of planning.
“For there not to be a state initiative, a state plan and to solely rely on the locals, I don’t believe we’re providing the leadership that all of us signed up to do,” Washington told Maryland’s planning department.
Washington contrasted Maryland’s efforts with those in New Jersey, which, she said, has a $7 million budget to urge residents to complete the census.
At one point, Wilkins questioned Maryland Planning Secretary Rob McCord.
“We don’t have a written spending plan to look at? Nothing?” the delegate said.
Despite the lawmakers’ concerns, David Buck, a spokesman for the planning department, called the state’s efforts to prepare for the census “unprecedented in terms of support received from state leaders, having dedicated census staff, and the level of coordination Maryland has built with state, county, municipal, and nonprofit partners.”
Buck said the state has launched a census website and Twitter account. It has dedicated booths at the Maryland Municipal League and Maryland Association of Counties conferences.
Buck said the planning department has allocated $4.1 million in matching grants to local jurisdictions and nonprofits in various counties throughout the state. Buck said the planning department is in discussions about how to best spend the additional $900,000 that is the concern of lawmakers.
But the legislators argue a decision about the money needs to be made soon.
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“What’s the state’s plan?” Washington asked. “This must be a top priority. You don’t get to redo it.”
Wilkins, who introduced legislation this year to create 2020 Census Complete Count Commission but withdrew it upon hearing that Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration would form the committee without the bill, said the administration is not following through on the mission.
“As a member of the state’s Census Complete Count Committee, I am very concerned about the Hogan administration’s delays,” Wilkins said. “A successful 2020 census will impact important resources such as our schools, roads and health care over the next 10 years. We are running out of time to get on track. Spending and necessary preparations have not taken place despite repeated requests.”
Del. Nick Mosby, a Baltimore Democrat, warned that time is running out. If the state fails to get the word out about the census, some jurisdictions, such as Baltimore, could suffer a loss of funding.
“I am concerned that Census 2020 count is months away and the Hogan administration has not developed a plan or allocated appropriate funding for preparation and outreach to citizens," Mosby said in a text. “Last session, Delegate Wilkins of Montgomery County drafted well thought through and sensible legislation to ensure that all Marylanders were counted in 2020. Unfortunately, Governor Hogan stepped in front of the legislative process to create his own committee ― and now he’s dropping the ball and putting Marylanders at a competitive disadvantage. Other states have robust solutions of ensuring their citizens are counted and we need our governor to do the same.”
Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said the administration isn’t going to rely on legislators to dictate how the money is spent.
“We are well on track with our plan for the Census, and we’re marshaling the resources of every agency for this historic effort," Ricci said. “This is just your typical case of legislators wanting to get their way, which more often than not means that they get in the way. They want to dictate how money is spent, while we’re focused on getting resources to the people actually doing the work of the Census and ensuring that every Marylander gets counted.”