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Lawmakers, advocates stress importance of accurate 2020 Census count

Sens. Elgie R. Sims Jr., Emil Jones III, Iris Y. Martinez and Kimberly A. Lightford

SPRINGFIELD – Senate lawmakers and advocates gathered Thursday to stress the importance of getting a full and accurate count in Illinois during the 2020 Census.

Assistant Majority Leader Iris Y. Martinez spoke to the potential consequences of an undercount.

“The census is used to determine federal funding and representation for our state,” Martinez (D-Chicago) said. “That means, if we are undercounted, we stand to lose billions in federal funding, along with two congressional seats and two Electoral College votes.”

Martinez is the sponsor of legislation, contained in Senate Bill 1408, that would appropriate $25 million to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to provide grants to community providers and local governments for the purposes of encouraging full participation in the 2020 federal census.

Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, who is also sponsoring legislation to appropriate funds for grants to ensure an accurate count, spoke about the impact an undercount could have on minority communities.

“We know that minority communities are in jeopardy of losing out on funding for vital services and representation if they are once again undercounted, and there are a number of challenges in ensuring participation,” Lightford (D-Maywood) said. “My colleagues and I recognize that, and we are preparing by setting aside resources for the 2020 census now.”

Lightford’s measure, Senate Bill 2053, would appropriate $25 million to the Illinois secretary of state for grants to community providers and local governments for the purposes of encouraging full participation in the 2020 census, especially those historically under reported.

State Senator Elgie R. Sims Jr., who is sponsoring similar legislation, contained in Senate Bill 1600, that would appropriate funds to the secretary of state, noted that minority communities are often underrepresented in the census count.

“It is vital that all communities are accounted for in the next census,” Sims (D-Chicago) said. “Minority communities historically have been underrepresented. We must take every necessary step to ensure that census data is as accurate as possible to provide the necessary resources for every community.”

State Senator Emil Jones III spoke on his legislation, Senate Bill 1621, that makes changes to the Illinois Complete Count Commission to make sure it approaches historically undercounted communities with a strategic focus.

“Senate Bill 1621 directs the Illinois Complete Count Commission to expand the census to address the poor communities that the census historically overlooks,” Jones (D-Chicago) said. “The census should reflect a fundamental truth: We all count.”

Advocates also spoke on statewide efforts to reach hard-to-count communities in 2020.

“It’s really important that people go out and vote, but it’s also important that they take that a step further and ensure that they get self-counted,” said Anita Banerji, director of Forefront’s Democracy Initiative, a three-year program aimed at increasing civic engagement.

Forefront is a statewide organization for nonprofits and grant makers that is heading several initiatives aimed at public awareness and education for the 2020 Census.

Griselda Vega Samuel, Midwest regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), said her organization has been conducting listening tours across Illinois ahead of the census.

“While there are a variety of barriers and challenges, the biggest concern we’re hearing across the board is about access to internet,” Vega Samuel said. “This will be the first modern census, completely online, and that poses a massive challenge for a lot of people.”

MALDEF is the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization.

For more information on the 2020 census, visit www.census.gov.