Planning Works to Assure a Complete Count Amid the COVID-19 Crisis
by Kristin R. Fleckenstein, Director of Public Affairs
with Kristen E. Humphrey, MLA, Local Assistance and Training Planner
During these uncertain and unprecedented times of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maryland Department of Planning (Planning) has found ways to adapt traditional, in-person census outreach efforts to engage the public and communities across the state. The goal of the 2020 Census is to ensure as complete a census count as possible of all Marylanders, while also recognizing the extraordinary circumstances of “stay-at-home” orders and social distancing and keeping Census workers, volunteers, and the public safe.
The good news is that despite the numerous challenges, Maryland has positioned itself as one of the nation’s early leaders in terms of outreach and census self-response rates. As of May 27, 2020, Maryland is ranked #11 in the U.S. in self-response rates and is second on the East Coast, only slightly behind Virginia. To assure a complete count, and that Maryland receives its full share of federal funds and other resources, for everything from roads, bridges and schools to vital, life-saving vaccines, Planning and its many partners across the state will continue utilizing a broad statewide outreach campaign to make sure that every Marylander is counted.
In light of the stay-at-home order, Planning has shifted some outreach efforts from face-to-face interactions, and those which rely on interfacing with people in public places, to reaching citizens in their homes through a variety of enhanced marketing tactics. Planning’s efforts now go far beyond the scope of original plans that relied in large part on marketing tools outside the home that used, for example, advertising such as billboards and bus signage to take advantage of formerly crowded public locations.
Planning successfully pivoted toward in-home methods including online marketing, outreach through social media, digital advertising, radio/TV advertising, and print publications. These assets have also been translated to engage Maryland’s Spanish-speaking community. As part of our new post-COVID-19 approach, Planning is also reaching out to school systems to provide Census messaging at school lunch distribution points, reaching families who are most in need during this crisis.
Planning has also ramped up efforts to get help from trusted leaders and organizations within Maryland’s diverse communities. While this has always been a part of the outreach plan, now more than ever, Planning is relying on locally-based community, non-profit, and religious leaders to share why it is critical to achieve a complete count of all Marylanders. Planning staff have distributed letters and flyers to faith leaders around the state outlining ways they can assist in spreading the word to their congregants about the importance of the 2020 Census. Our community and faith leaders have served their communities well by actively encouraging their constituents to complete the 2020 Census.
Planning has also reached out to another critical partner — Maryland’s business community – to help spread the word. In particular, Planning is working with energy companies that serve Maryland, including BGE, Pepco, Delmarva Power, Choptank Electric, and the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative (SMECO), and has requested they share Census 2020 messaging on customer billing, websites, and social media pages. We have had considerable positive feedback and participation in this effort and will continue working with these and other companies throughout the state. Additionally, Planning is working closely with local Chambers of Commerce to include messaging on their social media, websites, and newsletters.
Planning recently held regional virtual meetings with local Complete Count Committees (CCCs) from each of the state’s twenty-three counties and Baltimore City to gain perspectives on how they are adapting local Census efforts during the pandemic. These CCC meetings have identified many creative approaches jurisdictions are taking to reach out to their communities and encouraging completing the Census. These ideas are being utilized across the state to increase Census response.
The U.S. Census Bureau (USCB) announced it will extend the self-reporting deadline from July 31, 2020, to October 31, 2020, in response to the stay-at-home order and to accommodate an extended social distancing period during the COVID-19 pandemic. The USCB hopes to begin their door-to-door enumeration in Maryland later this summer for those who have not yet responded.
Adapting to changing circumstances, as well as robust partnerships with local governments, nonprofits, businesses, and other organizations, are key to the success of the 2020 Census. Planning will continue with our vigorous efforts to reach out to other agencies, nonprofits, and faith-based organizations to partner with us to attain our goal of a complete count of all Maryland residents.
For more information about the 2020 Census, please visit census.maryland.gov or contact Kristin Fleckenstein, Director of Public Affairs at firstname.lastname@example.org.