Standing in a West Side park, surrounded by neighborhoods with some of the lowest response rates to the census in Chicago, state and county officials urged residents Tuesday to fill out their forms as soon as possible as the Trump administration continues to shift deadlines and create confusion.
“We’re here to say that we’re going to continue to fight to count every single individual and to encourage everybody to complete the census,” said Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya. “At this point, our lives are in jeopardy, our future is in jeopardy, our schools, our health system, they’re in jeopardy, and it’s all because there’s been a political fight back and forth on when the deadline is.”
The official deadline was the end of July, but it was pushed back to Oct. 31 because of the pandemic. Then the Trump administration abruptly moved the deadline up to Sept. 30, despite warnings from the Census Bureau. Advocacy groups and civic organizations went before a federal judge to challenge new deadline, arguing more time was needed for an accurate count, especially in communities of color where response rates badly lag behind the national average.
Last week, the judge scrapped the Sept. 30 deadline. Then early this week, the Trump administration announced it would end the count on Oct. 5, arguing the judge did not explicitly set a new deadline in her ruling. The judge has asked federal attorneys for documentation on the latest deadline.
In the meantime, state and county officials say they are working under the assumption that the count will end Oct. 5, and are instructing residents to fill out census forms immediately and be included in a count that will determine Illinois’ representation in Congress, as well as the state’s and city’s share of billions of dollars in federal aid over the next 10 years.
Statewide, the self-response rate has already surpassed 2010 levels at just over 70%. But rates in Chicago continue to hover around 60%, with some neighborhoods reporting rates as low as 30%. Some of the city’s lowest rates are in neighborhoods around the park, such as Back of the Yards, West Englewood, Little Village and North Lawndale, all areas that have struggled with poverty and a lack of resources.
Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton said the constantly shifting deadlines are the Trump administration’s latest effort to “suppress the count” by generating confusion.
“The census has its own terminology, and in that terminology Black and brown communities are called hard to count, but why is that?” Stratton said. “Well, because historically systemic racism has put obstacles in the path of Black and brown people, from underfunding schools to denying voting rights to preventing us from being accurately counted for years, for decades, centuries even.
“Just a 1% undercount will cost this state $195 million in federal funds at a time when we need it the most,” she continued. “These federal funds impact each and every one of you directly. It’s money for your neighborhood, it’s money for your block. For people in our Black and brown communities like this one, an accurate count often means a seat at the table for people who look like us and are advocating for us.”
Stratton was joined by members of Habilitative Systems Inc. and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, two organizations that have been leading outreach efforts. The groups said they planned a push this week in undercounted areas.
The Census Bureau had said it also planned a final push in the last weeks, but then reported around 3,000 fewer people in the field earlier this month. Officials insisted no one was being laid off and speculated that people were leaving as the work neared an end.
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