SMITH PLAZA — Beginning March 12, homes across the country will start receiving invitations to complete the 2020 census, and University representatives are working to ensure everyone in the state is counted.
A small group of impassioned advocates, students, professors and government representatives gathered at Smith Plaza on March 4 for a press conference designed to encourage New Mexico residents to participate in the 2020 census.
Cathryn McGill, appointed by Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and the Bernalillo County Commission to chair the Albuquerque/Bernalillo Complete Count Committee, spoke at the gathering and emphasized that the financial return on the individual time investment would be well worth it for the state.
"Nine questions. Ten minutes to complete. Millions (of dollars) for your community — you do the math," McGill said. "We want to be leaders in transportation infrastructure, in affordable housing, in early childhood education and food and wage security, and improving our response to the 2020 census is the best way to make New Mexico better."
According to census outreach group NM Counts 2020, "a mere 1% undercount of New Mexico's population in 2020 would result in a $780 million loss of federal funds over a 10-year period."
Robert Rhatigan, interim director of the University of New Mexico Geospatial and Population Studies and the state’s demographer, also emphasized how critical getting everyone to participate in the census is for New Mexico.
"Census responses are used to determine political representation in Congress, in the state legislature, in county commissions and in city councils," Rhatigan said.
He emphasized that no one should be afraid to participate.
"I want to remind everyone how safe, important and easy the census is," Rhatigan said. "There is no citizenship question on the census and ... every census response is protected under federal law and cannot be shared with ICE, with the FBI or the CIA."
Rhatigan appealed for students to engage with people in their communities who may need help completing the decennial population count.
"Spread the word to your friends, family and neighbors and offer assistance to anybody who needs it — whether that's a foreign national who doesn't realize that they're supposed to complete the census, or it's your grandparents who need assistance with the technology or anyone who might need assistance with language and accessibility," Rhatigan said.
UNM students have an added incentive to ensure everyone participates in the census, as the headcount in New Mexico directly affects the amount of federal aid for tuition.
The Pell Grant is one of the top five federal programs with funding determined by the census, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
According to New Mexico Voices for Children, a nonprofit child well-being advocacy group, the Pell Grant is the second-largest source of financial aid for New Mexico college students, making up 25% of all aid received.
PaulaMarie Herbert, a UNM public administration graduate student and co-chair for the Urban Native Complete Count Census Committee, said the census brings in federal funding for tribal communities and noted that Albuquerque has some of the largest concentrations of Native communities in the U.S.
"A third of our state's Native Americans live in the city, and we have 400-plus tribes represented here in Albuquerque," Herbert said.
Getting an accurate count is necessary to ensure critical resources will be available to Native populations, according to Herbert.
Herbert and the other census advocates have reason to be concerned. In 2010, New Mexico had the second-lowest response rate in the country, according to an infographic by NM Counts 2020.
The 2020 census will be the first-ever to include an option to respond online, which may help boost the number of responses in "hard-to-count" states such as New Mexico.
"After centuries of putting pen or pencil to paper, the U.S. government is getting ready to rely on digital screens and the cloud for its first-ever primarily online census," NPR reported in a story aired on March 2.
Though the questionnaire will ask for the address of where you expect to sleep on April 1, residents will be able to submit their responses as early as March 12. You can fill out census information by going to my2020census.gov to complete the questions online. The website is scheduled to be open to the public through July 31.
For UNM students, the census will be coming to them.
On April 1, the UNM Complete Count Committee will be holding a "2020 Census Block Party" outside the Student Union Building. Computers will be provided, and committee representatives will be present to answer questions and help students complete the questionnaire.
"It's essential we mobilize our communities, that we mobilize everyone in our neighborhoods, our family members, et cetera, because this data is extremely important," Brandale Mills, a U.S. Census Bureau media specialist, said. "Representation matters."
Lissa Knudsen is a public health beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @lissaknudsen
Alex McCausland is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @alexkmccausland