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With new deadlines, there is a last push in East Multnomah County for an accurate count

COURTESY PHOTO: ENAYET RAHEEM WITH UNSPLASH - 2020 Census forms are safe to fill out and turn in — all information is protected from law enforcement, local officials said. The clock is winding down on ensuring Oregonians receive their fair share of federal resources and congressional representation in the next decade.

As the deadline for completing the 2020 Census looms — with shortened deadlines due to COVID-19 — East Multnomah County leadership is working together to connect with hard-to-count communities and combat rumors that participation can lead to information being passed to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or other law enforcement agencies.

"Our Multnomah County Board stands united in our efforts to get a complete picture of the diversity in our county, and in our dedication to provide the services our community needs," said Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann.

The Census is an important way to carve out funding from the Federal government for schools, hospitals, first responders and other social services — all of which are more critical than ever during the pandemic.

Oregon also has an additional congressional seat at stake, and a portion of more than $900 billion a year for Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), school lunch programs, transportation planning and services for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

The census dictates funds for school districts, roads and economic development. It also guides where new hospitals and fire stations are built.

"Each person who fills out the census helps to secure thousands of dollars in funds for programs in our community," said Gresham City Councilor Eddy Morales. "East Multnomah County is in desperate need of funds."

While Oregon is slightly above the national average with a self-response rate of about 65%, many still haven't participated in the count. So census takers have begun going door-to-door in Multnomah and Clackamas counties. But that won't last for much longer, and the census is behind where it was a decade ago.

There was a lot of confusion when COVID-19 spread globally and a state of emergency was declared in East Multnomah County. Many falsely assumed the census would be delayed until next year.

Initially the U.S. Census Bureau earmarked the end of October as the deadline, but that was moved up one month. Now Oregon must complete its count by Sept. 30. After that date, the Census Bureau will stop door-to-door outreach and cease collecting responses over the phone, online or by mail.

"It's important for us to establish a baseline population that will be used for the next 10 years," said Cristal Otero, Fairview/Wood Village census coordinator. "We want to get our fair share."

Safely counted

PMG FILE PHOTO - Lori Stegmann Elected officials at the county and city level have reiterated — filling out the 2020 Census is safe for people of color, urban and low-income households, immigrants, non-English speaking populations and young children.

"There have been numerous efforts to instill fear in our communities," Stegmann said. "We must come together to reject the attempts to dissuade our communities from participating and stay committed to ensure the integrity of the census."

The United States Census Bureau is prohibited by law from sharing personal information with any other federal government or law enforcement agency, including any details that identify an individual. The penalty for wrongful disclosure is a fine of up to $250,000 and imprisonment for up to five years.

Some of the concerns stemmed from President Donald Trump's administration requesting states send driver licenses connected to anyone taking the census to help determine how many undocumented immigrants participated. That info would then inform the federal government when it came to allocating funds.

Only four states agreed to send the information, but Oregon was not one of them. Citizenship status does not matter when it comes to filling out the census.

"A lot of the rhetoric this year around the census has been on the citizenship status of those filling it out," Otero said. "We want to honor the folks who live in our cities and enable them to be counted fairly."

Data collected through the Census can only be used for statistical purposes that help inform important decisions, such as how much federal funding the community receives. The limits of usage are protected within the U.S. Constitution, with Title 13 stating the data cannot be used for anything else, including helping law enforcement.

The Census Bureau also protects the information it collects with a cybersecurity program that incorporates industry best practices and federal security standards for encrypting data.

"The people in our county, state and nation deserve to be seen, heard and counted," Stegmann said.

Get counted

Visit oregon2020census.gov to complete the 2020 Census online and help Oregon get counted correctly. There are 10 questions that should take about 10 minutes to complete, and forms are available in 13 languages.

If you have trouble filling it out online, you can visit the mobile Census Access Center from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Saturday in the Multnomah Learning Academy parking lot, 22565 N.E. Halsey St. in Fairview. You can receive assistance or use a laptop to complete the census.

Radio connection

PMG FILE PHOTO - Wood Village and Fairview have begun working with Slavic Family Radio to broadcast the importance of the census to new communities. People are coming up with innovative ways to secure an accurate count.

The cities of Fairview and Wood Village have partnered with Afisha Russian Advertising Agency to air daily radio spots on 1040 AM KXPD Slavic Family Radio to get the Slavic community to participate in the 2020 U.S. Census.

The ads will run throughout August and include information about the Census Access Center at the Slavic Family Media Center.

"Our Slavic friends and neighbors bring a unique cultural diversity to our communities — we have so much to learn from them," said Wood Village Mayor Scott Harden. "A complete census ensures we will have the necessary resources to serve them while we learn."

The advertisements should help mobilize a population that has had low turnout in the past with the Census. According to a 2014 joint report by the Coalition of Communities of Color and Portland State University, the Slavic community was undercounted in the 2010 Census by 31.6%. That means 24 out of 100 Slavic households in Multnomah County did not participate in the 2010 Census.


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