The 2020 Census is starting soon, and its importance to our community cannot be overstated. I spoke with Urbana Mayor Diane Wolfe Marlin, Northeast Central Illinois Regional Intermediary for the 2020 Census Linda Steinberg, and Associate Planner for the City of Champaign Tina-Marie Ansong to get the facts about how the census affects us, who should participate, and what we can expect.


Smile Politely: Who should be included in the census here? Citizens? Non-citizens? Students?

Tina-Marie Ansong: The government is trying to count every single person living in the United States. Whether you’re a citizen, or you’re undocumented, or you’re a green card holder, your citizenship status does not matter. As long as you’re living in the United States, you should be counted.

Students should absolutely be counted. It’s safe to assume that all students are living here on April 1st, and that’s the official census date: April 1st.

Diane Marlin: It doesn’t matter where your parents live, if you live in a dorm or university housing, where you are registered to vote, where you were born, or who you live with. If you are living in Urbana on or before April 1st, 2020, you count in Urbana.

Linda Steinberg: Everyone counts and should participate! Contrary to popular belief, there is no citizenship question on the 2020 Census form. 

You should fill out the census based on the address you live at, so students in dorms will be counted by their dorms not their parents, students living with roommates should all be counted on the same census form, and international students should also fill out the census.  This helps ensure that our community has the funding to support the resources being used by everyone while they are here. More information about who fills out the census and where to be counted can be found at www.2020centralillinoiscensus.org/.

SP: When will we receive our 2020 Census form? When does it need to be submitted?

Ansong: This is the first year where the U.S. Census Bureau is actively encouraging everyone to fill out the form online. Starting on March 12th, the census will begin sending out invitation letters to residents, and in that invitation you will have a URL and a unique census I.D. that will allow you to go online and fill out the form. You’ll get three or four reminders in the mail, and the fourth reminder will be a paper form. At that point if there is still no response, that’s when census workers will go door-to-door to collect the information. They will start door-to-door enumeration on campus first, recognizing that graduation is mid-May, so they want to get census data taken sooner. In the larger community they will start door-to-door calls in the summer.

Steinburg: National Census Day is observed on April 1st, 2020. This is also the date used as a “cut off” to answer questions when filling out the census. However, community residences will be able to access the census as early as March 12th, 2020 online and by phone. The paper form should be received via the mail no later than April 1st.

SP: Why is the 2020 Census important to Champaign-Urbana?

Steinburg: The census is how we count our U.S. population. This count is used by the government to distribute over $675 billion in federal funding for local schools, fire stations, roads, etc. Each person not counted costs our community $1400 in federal funding. For example, Champaign County has an estimated undercount of 40,000 people from the 2010 Census — that means we lost out on $56 million each year (over $560 million since the census is only completed once each decade) just in our county alone! In addition, the population count dictates how many seats in the House of Representatives each state gets.  This is particularly important for Illinois because we have lost a seat in the House every census since 1930 (we are currently down to 18) and we are actually estimated to lose two this time around. That means we will have less representation in government advocating for our state’s needs.

Marlin: The 2020 Census is important for many reasons. First, many state and federal funds (our tax dollars) are distributed back to communities based on population, estimated at approximately $1400 per person per year for Urbana. These funds pay for infrastructure, public safety, programs and services for low-income neighborhoods, and the city’s basic operating expenses. Second, state legislative districts and federal congressional districts are drawn based on population. Illinois lost one congressional seat in 2010, due to declining population and could lose one or two more seats, depending on this census count. Third, we need to have accurate counts in order to understand our community’s needs and plan for our future.

Ansong: As it relates to politics and political representation, it directly affects the apportionment in the House of Representatives. And you have probably heard in the past few years talk of outmigration in the state of Illinois to neighboring states, so it’s even important that this year all the persons living here get counted here. It’s not a matter of whether Illinois will lose representatives, it’s a matter of how many. Making sure we’re all counted will keep us better represented.

The census data is directly tied to distribution of $675 billion. That goes to every layer of government: to the state, to the city, to non-profits that apply for federal grants. It’s Medicaid, it’s SNAP, it’s school lunch programs, funding for roads, hospitals, federal housing. It’s tied to almost everything in terms of federal funding being distributed. Businesses look at the census data to determine whether the city has the population to sustain their business. It gets used for market research and determines what businesses come here.

SP: Should we be concerned about giving information to the U.S. Census Bureau?

Steinburg: No! All information collected by the U.S. Census Bureau is protected by Title 13.  This law prohibits the U.S. Census from sharing any of the specific details collected from any one person. Sharing clarified information is punishable with up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. The census information is treated and protected similarly as medical information by HIPPA.

Ansong: Every census taker will be branded in census gear. The laptops will have census stickers, their phones. But most importantly, they will be wearing an I.D. around their neck with an official seal and an expiration date. A census taker will never ask you for payment of any kind, or your social security number, your drivers’ license number, your citizenship status; those are all red flags. They should not be asking you any of those questions. If someone is at your door asking you for that information you should close your door and call the police.
Don’t worry about them sharing information with law enforcement or ICE. All census workers and the census itself is required by federal law to keep all information private. They cannot share it with any other person, any other agency, they are bound by law to keep your information private.

SP: Are you concerned whether we have enough census workers in the area to get an accurate count?

Steinburg: Do I think having enough census workers will make or break the count? No. Going door to door is an expensive and inefficient way to gather information. It is also the last resort of the U.S. Census Bureau to get those who have not filled out the census on their own or have not filled it out completely, to complete it. For this reason, our state as invested a lot of time and money into outreach and education to try and combat the myths surrounding the census and improve participation. I believe this is likely to be a more effective method to increase the count. 

SP: Can locals still apply to become census workers to help?

Steinburg: Yes, locals can still apply to be Federal Census workers but that is completed by going to 2020census.gov/jobs. The process is timely so the sooner a person applies, the better. You do not have to be a U.S. citizen to apply but you do need to have a social security number and be able to pass a federal background check.

Marlin: Census workers will visit individual households who have not responded to the online, phone, or paper survey. The Census Bureau is still looking for people to work and they will pay $20.50 in Champaign County. This is a very important job and we encourage anyone who is interested to apply online.

Ansong: The Census is currently hiring a number of field work positions. It pays $20.50 an hour, and the work time is flexible. If you are interested in making extra money or you have a teenager over 18 needing to make extra money, please apply for census taker positions. They really need a lot of help and boots on the ground to get this taken care of this year.

SP: What can we all do to make the 2020 Census be accurate, helpful, and successful?

Marlin: Look for the census letter in the mail, go online and fill out the form, and encourage family and friends to do the same. It’s one of the simplest, but most important ways you can help the community, year after year. By being counted in Urbana, you help bring tax dollars back to Urbana, ensure fair representation at the state and federal level, and help us plan the programs and services that our community needs.

Steinburg: It’s easy! Take 10 minutes and complete the census for your household on paper, online, or by phone as soon as possible. It is the easiest way to have a huge, positive impact for the community we all share. The mail-in form will only be in English, but the online form is available in 14 different languages and the phone is available in 59 different languages.  Anyone who needs assistance completing the census, whether you have questions or just need access to internet or a phone line, can find Census Assistance Hub information throughout Champaign County here.

Ansong: Our Champaign County Complete Count Committee is focusing on groups that are hard to count, like the homeless, children under five, students, and the foreign-born population. We have partnered with the University YMCA and they have taken the lead to ensure that the foreign-born population and students on campus get counted. They have been very helpful and they have staff that speak multiple languages.

Photo from City of Urbana Facebook page.