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With millions of dollars in government funding at stake, an accurate census count is critical for local municipalities all over the nation, Montgomery County included. Estimates from the Census Bureau suggest that the county lost $151 million over 10 years due to approximately 8,000 people who weren’t counted in the 2010 census.

Nik Sushka (center) during an outreach event

On April 1, the 2020 Census will officially kick off with the hope of accounting for every person living in the United States. Mandated by the Constitution, the nationwide census is conducted every 10 years. Census information determines how much federal and state funds a community gets back from the taxes its residents paid, how those resources are allocated based on the needs, and how congressional and state legislative districts are redrawn.

Taking the lead on ensuring an accurate count, a group of Montgomery College staff and faculty have created the “MC Complete Count Committee.” Members volunteer to help inform the community of the importance of filling out the census and to explain how the census works.

There are three main reasons why it is important to get a full count through the census, according to Karla Silvestre, director of community engagement and one of the leaders of the committee at the College.

We base a lot of our decisions and planning, such as how do we [as a College] reach certain populations, based on information. Who is living in our county? Where do we need to have a new campus or a new community center?

“Census information is used for a variety of important issues. One, immediate to us, is resources. Some government programs are divided up by population, and if we are not counted, that’s one less person that they’re going to send resources for. Pell Grants, free and reduced meal programs, and some health care programs,” she said. “It’s important to have a complete count so that we are getting our fair share of federal dollars that we pay for in taxes.”

Emily Dohler Rodas, one of the 18 student ambassadors (left), and Nik Sushka (right)

The second reason is congressional representation on both the national and the state levels. Census data dictates how district boundaries are redrawn for the U.S. Congress every 10 years, Silvestre said, as well as the county council and state legislature.

“And the third is just information,” Silvestre said. “We base a lot of our decisions and planning, such as how do we [as a College] reach certain populations, based on information. Who is living in our county? Where do we need to have a new campus or a new community center?”

Unfortunately, the hard-to-count populations usually need resources the most, said Nik Sushka, Rockville Campus service-learning coordinator and member of the collegewide committee. Children under five, people who speak languages other than English, and low-income families have been traditionally undercounted, she says. “In addition to that, renters, people who move frequently, and college students are often the least likely to either understand that form is for them or to get the form in the first place,” Sushka says.

To reach these populations, the MC committee has enlisted 18 student ambassadors who will be conducting information sessions, both one-on-one and in larger settings, to let their peers, families, and communities know how important participation in the process is.

The controversy over whether the current administration would include a question about citizenship has made some residents of the county concerned about filling out the census this year, Silvestre and Sushka have found. After a series of successful lawsuits challenging the administration’s proposal, the question will not be included, so the census will not collect social security numbers, nor will it ask about legal status or date when the person entered the country.

“We do recognize that some people have concerns. We want to make sure that they know that they have the right to fill out the census,” Sushka said. “The lawsuits were meant to protect people’s right to fill out the census and to make sure everyone could be counted, and that the information being collected was simple and safe enough that it wouldn’t put anyone at risk.”

Sushka points to Clarksburg to highlight how much the county has changed in the past ten years. “It was basically farmland. Now we have tens of thousands of new homes, so if everyone there is counted, that’s how we get more bus routes, a library, more schools,” she says. “Just imagine how much different it will look by 2030. That’s why we are trying to make sure everyone participates.”

To learn more, visit the Montgomery College or the Montgomery County websites.

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