mailboxes

Census forms will begin arriving in local mailboxes in April. A request for state funding to help with a complete count of Roaring Fork Valley residents for the 2020 census was denied this month.

A state committee tasked with doling out funding to support 2020 census efforts statewide has denied a grant application from the Aspen to Parachute Complete Count Committee.

Colorado’s legislature set aside $6 million to support organizations working to ensure accurate population counts. In total, applicants requested $18.8 million to get the job done. The regional count committee, referred to as A2PCCC, requested that $177,856 go toward census efforts throughout the Roaring Fork Valley.

The money is appropriated through the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. The A2PCCC application pointed out that the demographics in the partner region include the full gamut of hard-to-count populations, including non-English speakers, seasonal workers, children under 5, retirees and rural residents in subdivisions without mailboxes.

“A2PCCC will use DOLA Complete Count grant funds to increase the response rate of hard-to-count populations and accuracy of the 2020 census by deploying a comprehensive, multi-lingual, region-wide public information and outreach campaign before and during the census period,” the application states.

Phillip Supino, city of Aspen long-range planner, chairs the regional count committee. He said the geographical expanse of the service area is 4,500 square miles and includes about 80,000 residents.

“Relative to the requirements and guidelines identified by the Department of Local Affairs for the grant application process, I believe that we checked every box,” Supino said.

But the state committee saw otherwise, according to audiotapes of the two-day review process. They spoke about A2PCCC’s application for six minutes, concluding that it was incomplete, and questioning the need in the valley.

“I just have a hard time [giving] $177,000 to Pitkin County, when they haven’t identified need, and they say they are going to figure it out,” said committee member Scott Gessler, former Colorado secretary of state.

The rest of the committee seemed to echo Gessler’s sentiment that the application was not fleshed out. Another committee member, however, remarked that the application sought support for efforts beyond Pitkin County.

“... We should remember they are proposing a number of areas, so it’s not just Pitkin County,” said an unidentified committee member. “But I don’t disagree with what’s been said.”

As written in the application, the funds would be spent in broad categories, including information gathering and planning, a structured media campaign as well as a grassroots campaign, and what was called “Response Access Improvements.”

“A2PCCC will also deploy grant money to Response Access Improvements activities that will improve self-response rates by addressing the geographical and basic infrastructure-related barriers to response, including lack of internet and computer access, lack of mailboxes and mail service at local residences, and seasonal residence that might disrupt the distribution of census information and forms,” the application states. 

The application details the money that would be spent during each stage of the four categories.

“I think we had a very strong application,” Supino said. “Folks are scratching their heads a little bit.”

The top grant recipient was the Metropolitan State University of Denver Foundation, with an award of $456,698. Others on the high end were Adams County, $420,000; Pueblo County, $350,000; and the Asian Roundtable of Colorado, $326,430.

Following denial of the funding, local government leaders, including Aspen City Manager Sara Ott, have regrouped. They are working on supplementing their needs from local resources.

“The managers throughout the valley have talked and have agreed to try and work with their governing bodies to see if there are additional resources to support this effort more than what had already been committed,” Ott said.

Along with being used as the standard for per capita funding for local health and human service grants and school funding, accurate census data will help with the development of future policy for everything from land use to housing.

Along with government funding, the regional committee plans to reach out to local community members and businesses for in-kind donations such as graphic design work and printing services, to help distribute information to the public.

The complete count committee has contracted a public relations manager who will be spearheading tailored information campaigns to hard-to-count communities.

“We got really good input from our community members on how to focus our messages,” Supino said.

The first rollout of the information campaign will begin in January. It will include information about the changes to the census this year as it is the first time it can be completed online. There also will be outreach assuring that data is protected from being shared with other federal agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

“We remain focused on trying to support and inform people on the importance of participating in the census, the safety and security of participating in the census, and ensuring we get a complete count in the service area. Those goals have not changed,” Supino said.

“And we are very interested in finding proactive solutions to continue to reach those goals in spite of DOLA’s decision about the grant money,” he added.

Alycin Bektesh is a reporter for the Aspen Daily News. She can be reached at Alycin@aspendailynews.com or on Twitter @alycinwonder.