Friends and neighbors, it’s that time again. A new census is upon us, and soon we’ll all get an invitation to participate. Here at SHIM, we understand how important the census is to our community and are here to encourage and guide our neighbors through the process, especially often-undercounted groups such as refugees, seniors and low-income families.
The census is important for many reasons, yet participation is forecasted to be only 60% of the population. If you’re having doubts about completing the questionnaire, here are some things to keep in mind about why the census matters to all of us in the South Hills and why it’s safe to be counted.
- It offers crucial federal funding for the next 10 years. When we have a census, we collect data that supports everything from education and public housing to Medicare and Medicaid. Currently, Pennsylvania is the second-highest state with the most to lose if our population is undercounted. Allegheny County in particular has the greatest risk of undercount in western Pennsylvania. For each family of five that’s missed in the census, it is estimated that Pennsylvania could lose $100,000 in funding over the next decade. That puts an enormous strain on programs and benefits that many of our neighbors rely on every day.
- It helps nonprofits like SHIM better serve our community. SHIM has the best interests of our community at heart, and we work tirelessly to help thousands of our neighbors in need each month. That’s why we’re encouraging everyone in the South Hills to be counted in the census. When you participate, you’re helping your community and organizations like SHIM get access to resources that make our work possible. There’s a growing number of people in our area who need help to be more self-sufficient. Here in the South Hills, people are still hungry. They still need clothing and help paying their bills. If enough people aren’t counted, we would receive fewer resources to support more people. We’ll never turn away someone who needs us, but having limited means would make it even more challenging.
- It provides vital resources to our children. We all want to give our children the best education possible. The census ensures funding for key programs and services such as special education, Head Start, and free and reduced-price lunches. Children, especially those under the age of 5, are often undercounted during the census. When you get your questionnaire, be sure to include all of your little ones. Knowing how many children live in the South Hills will help us give them critical resources for the next 10 years.
- Your information will be completely confidential. Yes, the census is another request to share private details about ourselves and our families. That may seem daunting, especially if you’re not sure how secure the questionnaire is and what happens with your information. Rest assured, it’s completely safe. The U.S. Census Bureau is required by law to protect the data they collect and keep it strictly confidential. That means your name, address and other personal information are never revealed publicly. Census Bureau employees also swear a lifetime oath to keep your details safe and can face jailtime and a large fine if they violate it.
We understand that completing the questionnaire can be difficult. In the true spirit of neighbors helping neighbors, we’re partnering with the Jefferson Regional Collaborative to provide more opportunities for assistance to those who need it. This is the first census that will be done mostly online, so individuals who don’t have access to a computer or the internet can visit a library in our area to complete the questionnaire. We’re excited to share more details about the locations, including SHIM facilities, in the coming weeks.
We know we can’t do the work we do without help from the community, so we’re once again calling on all of you to raise your hands and let your voices be heard and counted. Your input matters. Participating in the census is the right thing to do for our community, so when you get yours, don’t hesitate to complete it. Encourage your family, friends and neighbors to do the same, and offer to help them if they need it.
The census is only effective when everyone has a say. And it’s not like we can do it again next year. The impact will be felt for the next decade, so we have to get it right. Let’s do this, South Hills!
To learn more about the census and the importance of being counted, visit becounted2020.org.
By Jim Guffey, executive director of SHIM