In preparation for the 2020 census, the city of Arvada took a number of big steps to ensure its response rate would match or exceed that of the last census in 2010, said city communications manager …
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In preparation for the 2020 census, the city of Arvada took a number of big steps to ensure its response rate would match or exceed that of the last census in 2010, said city communications manager Ben Irwin.
But new challenges arose this year; particularly, a 2019 effort by the Trump administration to add a citizenship question to the census, which was later blocked by the Supreme Court, has caused some confusion and uncertainty around the 2020 census, Irwin said. Facing this, Arvada chose to invest even more in its strategies to ensure a strong community response.
So far, those strategies — even after they faced drastic alterations because of the COVID-19 pandemic — have paid off: As of May 27, Arvada had already achieved about a 79% response rate. About a week before, the city’s response rate was listed as the third highest when compared to other similarly sized cities in the nation.
“We’re really proud of where Arvada is at. The census is of critical importance,” Irwin said. “It’s how resources are allocated across the country; money is distributed to the states each year based on census numbers, and in human form, that’s our representation in congress. From the individual resident’s perspective, it’s a civic duty.”
Additionally, census counts directly affect decisions made at the local level, he said. Every 10 years, the city reapportions city council districts using census data and uses the numbers for other forms of planning. New or relocating businesses also use the data to determine where or how to open, making it important that everyone participates in the census so the numbers are accurate, he said.
With all that in mind, Arvada applied for grant money through the Colorado Department of Local Affairs specifically to fund census efforts. The city was awarded that grant and has received additional funding through a grant that Adams County received through the department.
The city team and city council also worked together to form the Arvada Complete Count Committee, made up of members from both groups, community partners and Census Bureau staff. The committee has worked to raise awareness about the census, with the city hiring six part-time community connectors to help with those outreach efforts.
In the beginning, the committee’s plan was to table at Arvadans’ favorite events, like the Kite Festival and Taste of Arvada, to reach as many residents as possible. While that worked for some winter events including WinterFest and A Chocolate Affair, when coronavirus-related shutdowns began in March, the city needed to change tactics.
“We moved a lot more of our resources toward advertising,” Irwin said. “We’ve purchased bus stop signage, we wrapped a couple of RTD buses and we invested in some social media and streaming advertising,” such as on platforms like Hulu and Spotify, he said.
Meanwhile, community connectors reached out to different Arvada partners to find new ways to get the message out while everybody has been staying at home.
For instance, community connector Robert Slay worked with area nonprofits like Project Angel Heart, which distributed reminder information to some households, and the Carin’ Clinic, which has provided information for families stopping by for health care services.
They have also brainstormed ways to make extra connections with parts of the city that have had a lower response rate historically. One upcoming plan is to send about 5,000 postcards to households in these areas reminding them to respond, Slay said.
“We’ve sent a lot of things out, and we think something happened because we’re right at about 80% (response rate) now,” he said. “We think what we did made a difference.”
The 2020 census is the first through which residents have options to respond by phone or online. Mailing in a response is still an option as well.
The switch to more remote response options has long been planned by the bureau, coincidentally coming at a time when a number of other services moved online because of COVID-19.
“It was really lucky they had that ready,” Irwin said, adding that there has been a high percentage of responses through the online option.
The census count is ongoing, with residents encouraged to respond by calling (844) 330-2020 or visiting 2020census.gov, or mailing in their response. This year, the self-response option will be open through Oct. 31.
“It’s not too late,” Irwin said. “We want to encourage people to keep participating, and I would just thank the community for hearing our message about how important participating in this is.”
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