Sterling Heights encourages public census engagement

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The Sterling Heights City Council is behind the effort to make sure city residents fill out their census forms. Photo provided by Sterling Heights By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor and mascot Sterling B. Counted stand in a frame that promotes the 2020 census.
STERLING HEIGHTS — The countdown to the 2020 census is ticking, and Sterling Heights officials are counting on residents to do their part to be counted.

During a Jan. 21 Sterling Heights City Council meeting, Finance and Budget Director Jennifer Varney gave a presentation on the city’s campaign to promote public cooperation in filling out the census forms this year. City officials launched a Jan. 16 census stakeholder forum at the Velocity Center to kick off the campaign.

The census, which takes place once every 10 years, aspires to count the entire populace residing in the United States. Varney said the census is constitutionally required, and she added that this is the first time that residents can complete the census online.

Sterling Heights residents should expect to be notified about the census and how to fill it out in mid-March. Census day is April 1. Further notices will be sent throughout April to residents who didn’t respond, Varney added.

According to the city’s website, Sterling Heights had an 86% census application return rate in 2010, and they hope to have a 95% return rate this time.

City officials gave several reasons they believe that the census is important. Varney said the census impacts representation in Congress — the more people in a state, the more representatives they may get.

Varney explained that Michigan lost a U.S. representative — going from 15 to 14 — after the 2010 count. An additional decrease of another Michigan representative has been predicted for the new decade, but that hasn’t been made certain yet, she added.

She said Michigan received over $29 billion in federal funds in fiscal year 2016 for Medicaid, nutrition assistance, education, road construction and low-income housing programs. She estimated the census’s value at $1,800 per person counted annually over 10 years, so even an undercount of 2,000 people means a loss of $3.6 million per year to residents.

Varney said Sterling Heights is currently the fourth-largest city in the state, and it’s predicted to keep growing.

“An accurate census count is vital to ensure Michigan receives the appropriate amount of funding to support our residents,” she said.

In a video message, Mayor Michael Taylor said that, even if a handful of residents remain uncounted this year, it could affect millions of dollars in funding that impacts access to Medicaid, student loans, road construction and more.

“If we’re all counted, we all win,” he said.

City officials anticipate some residents’ fears over privacy, but they said respondents’ census data is meant “purely for informational and funding purposes” and that it’s a felony to wrongfully disclose individuals’ data. Varney added that the census is likely less invasive than one’s presence on social media. She explained that the form doesn’t ask for the applicant’s citizenship status or Social Security number.

More census events are in the works at the library and senior center, and the Chaldean Community Foundation also expects to hop aboard the campaign. To further help spread the word, a costumed bee mascot called Sterling B. Counted will attend community events to promote awareness. Some Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation buses will be wrapped with census-reminder messages, she added.

Varney said city officials hope to recruit volunteer “census ambassadors” to spread the word about the census and its importance. She said ambassadors can do this by sharing social media posts, displaying posters or door hangers, and more.

She said ambassadors could help reach out to undercounted demographics, which include homeless people, children younger than age 5, single-parent households, renters, college students and people who experience language barriers.

“We need everyone’s help,” she said.