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Black Hawk County leaders push census participation

Black Hawk County leaders push census participation

Brian Schoon

Brian Schoon

WATERLOO — Technology has made it easier for Americans to stand up and be counted.

Nearly 41 percent of Black Hawk County’s households had already responded to the 2020 U.S. Census by April 1, otherwise known as Census Day.

“In 2010 we hadn’t even gotten the forms yet,” said Brian Schoon, development director for the Iowa Northland Regional Council of Governments.

For the first time in the 230-year history of the decennial U.S. head count, respondents are able to answer the survey questions online or by telephone. Mail still works but is no longer the only option.

Schoon is a member of the Black Hawk County Census 2020 Complete Count Committee, which is working to boost participation locally and working on strategies to reach groups known to be under-counted in the past.

A University of Northern Iowa communications class worked with the committee to develop a website and conduct other research. The committee received $15,000 from local charitable foundations to hire Amperage to take over the marketing effort in January.

The official census count is used to determine the distribution of more than $675 billion in federal funding to states and local jurisdictions and also allocates 435 seats in the U.S House of Representatives among the states.

“It’s critical for Black Hawk County; it’s critical for the city you live in; it’s critical for our whole region that people respond,” Schoon said. “For everybody we miss, we miss the potential in terms of dollars of support for agencies and local governments, fixing potholes, and transportation and transit, and all those types of things.”

Schoon noted Iowa lost one of its congressional seats after the 2010 Census. “We don’t want to lose another one,” he said.

Lisa Ahern, another member of the Complete Count Committee, said the current coronavirus situation is a perfect example of the need to ensure a full count.

“You can truly see how important responses are right now, because a lot of the funding that’s coming down from the government in response to this health crisis will be allocated based on population,” Ahern said. “There really has never been a more critical time than now for people to understand what it means just to fill that out.”

The U.S. Census Bureau has altered some of its scheduling due to the COVID-19 pandemic, notably pushing back the start of when census workers will be going door to door to follow up with those households failing to self-respond.

“If we do what we’re supposed to do — that’s go online or pick up the phone and call or fill out the form and send it in — we wouldn’t need anybody to come knock on our door,” Schoon said. “We wouldn’t have to put anybody in harm’s way with regard to the coronavirus.”

Part of the local effort is educational, letting people know participation is vital and the responses are confidential. A controversial proposal to include a citizenship question this year was dropped.

Ahern said the committee also has been working with businesses and agencies to ensure everyone is informed about the process.

“We really put it back on the community and said you go to your respective audiences and plan something,” she said. “We really worked hard to gear information for specific audiences.”

That included posters written in many languages spoken in the county.

With many college students moving home due to schools closing for the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau is urging them to be counted as if they were still attending classes.

Jean Wiesley, UNI’s assistant director of residence/administrative services, said students living in residence halls are counted as Cedar Falls residents. Those living off campus who spent most of last year living in Cedar Falls are also being asked to call Cedar Falls home.

Every UNI student, faculty and staff member counted helps bring about $20,000 each in funding and resources for their community, she added. “It only takes a few minutes to make a difference.”

More information about the Black Hawk County census efforts can be found at or on the Black Hawk County Census Facebook page.

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