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Looking at Lowell underscores the importance of the 2020 Census

By Cheryl Clyburn Crawford

$61.4 million.

That’s how much federal aid Lowell receives as a result of the Census according to MassCounts, a coalition of advocacy organizations. Approximately $38 million – more than half of that sum – goes to community health centers, which are in greater need of aid than ever. Nearly 3,000 coronavirus cases have recently been confirmed in Middlesex County, and that number will only rise in the coming weeks. When it does, community health centers will need every cent they can get in order to care for everybody that requires treatment.

However, Lowell – like the rest of Massachusetts – is at risk of missing out on this much-needed federal funding if it is undercounted in the 2020 Census.

As of April 7, Lowell is on pace to be undercounted. Approximately 45.7% of people across the U.S. have responded to the census, and Massachusetts, fortunately, is currently ahead of that with a 47.1% response rate. However, Lowell is lagging, with only 40% of individuals having responded thus far.

Yet specific parts of the city are at an even higher risk of being undercounted, and consequently, missing out on this absolutely essential funding. The Acre neighborhood, for example, has seen a typical self-response rate of about 30%. The Downtown area has reported similar self-response rates, while the Back Central neighborhood has confirmed even lower rates of approximately 29%.

While it is true these are only self-response rates, and these areas arguably will be counted when a census taker knocks on their door, about 83% of Lowell’s population lives in what are deemed “hard to count” areas. Eighty-three percent is more than 90,000 people. Within these areas it is very difficult to complete the census count, limiting its overall accuracy and impact.

There are a number of reasons why this is the case. One, for example, may be attributed to the city’s vast immigrant population. Immigrants are considered hard to count because they can be wary of sharing information with the government, or because English is not their primary language. This challenge is especially apparent for Lowell, whose immense immigrant community includes Hispanics, Cambodians, and Africans. In parts of the Back Central neighborhood, for instance, immigrants make up more than 80% of the population.

Additionally, low-income individuals are less likely to be counted. As much of Lowell’s population is struggling to get by financially, especially in light of all that has happened recently, making rent and putting food on the table are taking up more energy than ever. The census, meanwhile, falls to the bottom on their priorities. With the majority of those around the city’s Acre neighborhood living in poverty, for example, this risk is all too present in Lowell.

While all Lowell residents suffer if the city misses out on federal funds, specific communities are at risk to suffer more than others. Beyond community health centers, an accurate census count ensures funding for programs like Medicare Part B, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Section 8 Housing Vouchers, and the National School Lunch Program. All of these programs are sorely needed now, as they ensure eligible individuals continue to receive healthcare, housing, and food assistance. With the coronavirus outbreak causing immense anxiety and uncertainty, these programs must be protected.

Getting the 2020 Census count right is one way that we can do this. Over the past few years MassVOTE, alongside our MassCounts coalition partners, have fought to ensure we maximize the 2020 Census count. While we previously focused on in-person advocacy and organizing, we have obviously had to adjust our strategy. We are meeting with state legislative offices virtually, encouraging them to lend their voice to the conversation. We are also collaborating with fellow advocacy organizations and community leaders to help us spread the word on census at the grassroots level.

Finally, we are utilizing digital tools to maximize attention on the census, ranging from social media outlets like Twitter to local media outlets like The Sun.

If you haven’t completed your census yet, you can do so online at my2020census.gov, by phone at (844) 330-2020, or by mail. If you have, tell your family and friends to do so, too.

Together we can and must get the 2020 Census count right. Lowell underscores the importance of this effort. We hope you will join us.

This article was originally posted in The Sun. Check it out here: https://bit.ly/2XxSths


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