ACCESS: Participating in the 2020 U.S. Census helps make Michigan stronger

Published on July 27, 2020 in

Editor’s Note: United Way for Southeastern Michigan is proud to be involved with efforts to increase participation in the 2020 Census. 

Through the Michigan Nonprofit Association (MNA), we are involved with the 2020 Michigan Nonprofits Count Campaign. Led by the MNA and ACCESS, the campaign works to educate our community about the importance of the census and its role in providing funding to programs our community relies upon, like SNAP and Medicaid.

The following is a guest blog from Rima Meroueh, ACCESS director of policy and advocacy, on why the U.S. Census is important to our region.

boy in classroom census education programs

With increases in COVID-19 cases and public outcries against police brutality, there is no doubt that the need for community investment and representation is becoming urgent. Although COVID-19 poses a threat to everyone, long-standing social inequities have allowed racial and ethnic minority groups to live in conditions that significantly increase the impact of COVID-19. However, participation in the ongoing 2020 U.S. Census can be one step toward securing representation that will redistribute investments towards community infrastructures that further health and social equity for those most affected.

At ACCESS, we work with communities that are impacted by a higher prevalence of chronic conditions such as asthma, hypertension, diabetes and other diseases — including HIV — that weaken the immune system. Unfortunately, the onset of COVID-19 exacerbated existing challenges for communities we service by leaving many without stable employment, housing, food access or health coverage. Additionally, many of the individuals we work with are people who are at increased risk for COVID-19 because they are working on the frontlines in health and service sectors.

For example, a client recently noted that current eligibility requirements for Medicaid excluded their parents from receiving full coverage to access testing for COVID-19. Despite having Emergency Service Only (ESO) Medicaid and seeking marketplace insurance to ensure the safety of their elderly parents, the monthly costs were not accessible and caused the family to forego insurance coverage. Although this client is currently working on the front lines and is training to provide medical attention to others, they are unable to gain support for their own family.

This case is not an isolated event. Individuals working in service sectors often work for low-wages and are not provided with health benefits, including paid leave or health insurance, by their employer. These circumstances force communities to rely on safety-net programs, such as Medicaid, but funding for these programs is contingent on accurate counts in the U.S. Census and congressional representation that supports the distribution of resources for communities most impacted by health and social inequities.

What is the U.S. Census?

The U.S. Census is a constitutional mandate to obtain a complete and accurate count of the U.S population – including citizens and non-citizens. The census impacts federal funding, resource distribution, political representation and business decisions, while also providing valuable statistics about our community. However, recent strategies by the Trump administration have threatened the participation of immigrant communities in the upcoming 2020 Census. Since the census determines decisions for the next 10 years, an undercount of Michigan’s population could leave more families, women and children without stable access to health services and financial insecurity.

The Role of the U.S. Census in Michigan

Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Highway Planning and Construction are among the top programs that rely on census data. An inaccurate count in Michigan could mean fewer resources for families in need.

In 2016, census data was used to grant Michigan almost $30 billion in federal funds and approximately 40 percent was used for Medicaid. After the 2010 Census, Michigan lost one congressional seat and another congressional seat is expected to be lost according to 2020 predictions.

The role of immigrants in the U.S. Census

Recent growth in the immigrant population has helped offset overall population loss in Michigan, but exclusion of their presence may hinder overall welfare for Michigan residents. If immigrants are excluded from the 2020 Census, Michigan could potentially face a significant annual reduction of reimbursements and payments for the entire state.

In 2017, immigration into Wayne County preserve approximately 7,500 jobs and kept the county’s population loss to 2.2 percent instead of 3.9 percent. Additionally, immigrants helped contribute $430.5 million to Social Security and $110.6 million to Medicare.

Why is the U.S. Census important for ACCESS?

The U.S. Census has identified immigrants as a “hard-to-count” community. Additionally, growing anti-immigrant rhetoric is further increasing their risk of being underrepresented.

Immigrants are already being threatened by ongoing immigration enforcement policies, like public charge, that limit their access to health and social welfare programs. The growing anti-immigrant environment has caused many immigrants and mixed-status communities to disenroll from services in fear that participation could impact their stay in the U.S.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled against the inclusion of the citizenship question, but advocates still fear that the initial proposal will suppress participation from immigrants and mixed-status families.

The ACCESS approach to the 2020 U.S. Census

As fewer individuals, including non-citizens, are counted in the Census, communities risk losing key funding and fair representation. That’s why ACCESS has worked toward increasing census participation by successfully advocating for the creation of “Complete Count” Committees and encouraging more than 20 community organizations to join “Complete Count” committees. Our Youth and Education department sent approximately 400 “We Count!” books to students enrolled in 21st Century programs with a letter to encourage parents to participate in the 2020 U.S. Census.

We have also worked to embed census education into the ACCESS intake process across departments that render direct services to clients. Staff members can inform clients about census participation in multiple languages and invite clients to complete pledge cards. The pledge cards allow us to follow up with clients and remind them about completing the census.

Prior to COVID-19, ACCESS also provided information about the census and provided pledge cards by tabling at local events, such as school fairs and festivals. Additionally, we have trained staff and volunteers to conduct census phone banking outreach to ensure clients are completing the census.

Building a Better Future

To continue overcoming the challenges created by health and social pandemics, we believe that civic engagement — including census participation — should continue to be promoted among our local communities. We cannot allow our communities to be left unsupported. Ten minutes of our time can create a future that is prepared to support those most impacted by future pandemics, environmental disasters, recessions and other injustices.

Immigrants are important stakeholders and contributors to the economic and social welfare of American society. Without their participation in the upcoming census, all residents across Michigan will risk being underrepresented in federal, state and local decisions. We must use this opportunity to include everyone and ensure the long-term prosperity for all Michigan families.