Everyone counts

Pitkin County, Aspen and Snowmass Village are collaborating on a yearlong outreach campaign designed to ensure an accurate local count in the 2020 census.

Phillip Supino, long-range planner for the city of Aspen, and Kara Silbernagel, policy and project manager for the county, will present details of the campaign at two separate government work sessions today. Their discussion with Pitkin County commissioners is scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m.; the Aspen City Council will meet at 4 p.m. They plan to speak with the Snowmass Village Town Council within the next few weeks.

In November, Supino was appointed to serve on the Colorado Complete Count Campaign committee, which is working to increase awareness around the state about the upcoming federal census. Supino said Monday that it’s not too early to begin the effort.

“It takes a long time to plan for and implement an outreach campaign that covers a large portion of our valley,” he said. “The census has big financial implications for our region and our state. I actually feel that we’re starting a little bit late.”

The U.S. Census Bureau conducts a count of the nation’s residents every 10 years. Accurate results are considered to be essential for local communities in terms of receiving federal monies for roads, health and human services, and other public benefits.

Silbernagel said that government entities and nonprofits in Pitkin County receive an estimated $41 million in federal dollars annually. Some of that money is allocated by state government. That’s an average from recent years as the figure fluctuates based on community needs.

But the amount of federal dollars flowing into the county could significantly decrease if the local population is under-represented in the census. A 2017 estimate by the state, based mostly on the 2010 census, places the county population at 17,875.

The city of Aspen conducted research last year suggesting that 1 percent to 3 percent of the county, possibly 170 people, was undercounted in 2010, leading to $400,000 annually that was not distributed back to the community, Silbernagel said. The state estimates that each person counted in the census represents about $2,300 in federal, state and local dollars.

“To be able to even apply for grant funding depends on these population counts,” she said.

Census results affect far more than federal funding for local services like road repairs and public health. The population of each state is used to determine how many representatives the state can elect to the U.S. House. The information on regional population obtained through the census also is used to draw the districts for those Congressional seats through a process known as apportionment.

The state has created an outreach program for the 2020 census called “Everyone Counts.” Complete Count committees are being formed at the local level to work with the state committee on which Supino serves, Silbernagel said. The goal of the local committee will be to work with different partners across the public, private and nonprofit sectors to leverage community knowledge regarding how best to reach every citizen so that no one is left out of the final 2020 census.

“We’re basically at the point right now of trying to find out who these partners are,” she said.

Census Day is April 1, 2020. That’s the federal government’s official date for counting its citizens, but in reality the process starts earlier and ends much later.

“That’s the confusing thing,” Silbernagel said. “The hard date for Census Day is April 1. But if the census hasn’t heard from you on April 1, a follow-up process begins.”

Through that follow-up, the U.S. Census Bureau hires people to go out into the field to gather information on households that haven’t responded to previous requests for information. But there’s a concern that the federal government has limited funding for next year’s census effort, which raises the importance of the local outreach process, Silbernagel said.

“In 2010, there was significant federal funding to support local outreach efforts due the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. However in 2020, there is not any supplemental funding for the count effort, making local campaigns all the more critical to get a full count,” she wrote in a memorandum to Pitkin County commissioners.

The 2020 census also will mark the first time U.S. residents may answer U.S. Census Bureau question online. That process will start on March 23, 2020. Residents also can provide information via phone or mail.

In 2018, the city of Aspen allocated $15,000 for the census. Pitkin County approved $15,000 in its 2019 budget to support an outreach and education strategy to mitigate a potential undercount in 2020, according to Silbernagel’s memo.

“This is a great example of the city and county collaborating on something of mutual interest,” Supino said.

Andre is a reporter for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at andre@aspendailynews.com.