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Census Outreach Continues in Bowling Green as Deadline Looms

Flickr/Creative Commons/Jeremy W. Osborne

The deadline to fill out the 2020 U.S. Census form is Sept. 30. That means counties like Warren are stepping up their door-to-door efforts to count every resident.

In the spring, the bureau started sending out surveys through the mail. As of Monday, 67.6% of Kentucky households had completed the census form on their own.

In Warren County, that estimated number is only 66.4% of estimated households. It's a number the Bowling Green-Warren County Complete Count Committee would like to see move higher.

"Literally, lots and lots of funding for infrastructure, roads, highways, healthcare, childcare, transportation, on and on and on, comes into our community from the federal government based on census numbers," City Commissioner Sue Parrigin said.

Parrigin also chairs the local complete count commitee. She said every person who's counted earns the area about $10,000 over a 10-year period, meaning it's crucial to get to as many households as possible.

Yet, Parrigin said one of the hardest to count communities is also one that may have left town when the COVID-19 pandemic began: college students.

"Coincidentally, that's about the time that the letters were going into mailboxes, so a lot of folks probably didn't get their letter before they left, wherever they went. But, they're to be counted in Bowling Green-Warren County," Parrigin said.

In recent years, the area has been among the fastest growing in Kentucky. However, those are distinctions that could possibly be lost should another growing area like Daviess County, which has a 77.2% self-response rate, count a higher portion of its population.

Prior to the pandemic, the Census Bureau had planned for counting efforts to finish at the end of July. Then, in the face of dramatic slowdowns related to COVID-19 precautions, it called for pushing the deadline to October 31. 

Plans changed again last month when it announced a new final date for data collection on Sept. 30. A lawsuit challenging the move has a hearing scheduled for Thursday.

Some advocates are concerned the changes to the deadline date, and controversy surrounding a citizenship question that ultimately wasn't added, will lower response rates for already hard-to-reach populations.

In Warren County, outreach includes partnering with around 50 community leaders from schools, non-profits, and faith-based groups among others.

Census Bureau partnership specialist Julie Trovillion says they help with bridge building.

"Each organization knows their clientele or their customers," Trovillion said. "They help us by putting flyers in mailboxes, or whatever they need to do to get the word out to them about responding to the census."

Having trusted community members reach out could prove vital in the end. Bowling Green has a foreign-born population about 10% larger than the statewide percentage.

International communities liaison Leyda Becker says the city began efforts to reach that group before the census started.

"We developed a series of PSAs, and I can't remember if it was 9 or 10 different languages, with ethnic comunity leaders so that we could get a better reach of the population," Becker said.

However,  a wide range of grassroots events aimed at driving up census participation among Bowling Green's international communities had to be scrapped in the wake of the pandemic.

Becker said, like college students, the international population may not know they also count as area residents for the census.

"Often times, that is the reality of how do we bridge those gaps and letting the community and residents know that their voice counts, and that by completing the census it does impact not only the community as a whole, but their family, too," Becker said.

As of Monday morning, Kentucky ranks 39th in the nation for the total number of residents counted, including those reached during door-to-door followups.

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