Civic Nebraska plans to start a Complete Count Committee in preparation for the 2020 census.
The initiative is a citizen-led group to help educate people about the 2020 census, which begins in April next year.
Civic Nebraska met Monday night at the Peace Center, formerly known as the old Hastings Middle School manual arts building at 622 N. Lincoln Ave., to discuss the Complete Count Committee.
Civic Nebraska, a nonprofit organization with offices in Lincoln and Omaha, is helping to kick-start a committee in Hastings. The local group will be among those in other Nebraska communities that are doing a Complete Count Committee.
Civic Nebraska was founded in 2008 by a politically diverse group of students in the University of Nebraska system. The organization operates youth civic leadership programs, conducts data-based civil health efforts, and specializes in nonpartisan voting rights research, policy advocacy, observation, investigation and litigation.
Complete Count committees are starting because Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed Legislative Bill 436, which would have established a state commission to push for a complete count in the 2020 Census. The Omaha World-Herald reported that Ricketts vetoed the bill because it would give “inappropriate authority” to the State Data Center in the University of Nebraska system.
The bill would have provided federal funds to committees for the purpose of educating people about the census and encouraging participation.
That’s why Margaret Marsh, voting rights field organizer with Civic Nebraska, is helping kick-start a committee in Hastings.
The committee will be responsible for providing information about the census, with the goal of getting a complete count.
Marsh, who lives in Hastings, said a complete count is important because data from the census helps lawmakers distribute money for services like roads, hospitals and schools.
Jon Marx is the advocacy strategist for the 3rd Congressional District for Nebraska Counts, an organization working to coordinate Complete Count Committees across the state. He said an inaccurate count could potentially cost millions of dollars in funding.
“This is federal fund dollars we would be denied,” Marx said.
Marsh cited data from the U.S. Census Bureau that in 2010, there was an estimated loss of $1,342 in federal funding per year over 10 years for each person not counted. The Census Bureau estimates a loss of $2,684 per uncounted person for the next decade.
Marx said there is also a risk of losing U.S. House positions if there is not a complete count. Marx said it it is not unheard of for a state to lose representatives.
“If we’re under-counted enough, we could lose the 3rd District and it could get absorbed into Lincoln or Omaha,” Marx said. “Really, what that looks like is less representation for rural areas. You’re going to have people in Lincoln and Omaha making decisions that primarily benefit them but not rural areas.”
“It dilutes our impact and our presence in legislature — our representation in Congress — which means our ability to be represented in the entire nation.”
Marsh added that it is the responsibility of the each citizen to participate in the census. The Constitution requires that the United States complete a census every 10 years for the purpose of determining representation in Congress. According to the Census Bureau, the census also assists in infrastructure planning.
“If it’s a constitutional responsibility, we have to help meet that. We can’t just depend on the government,” Marsh said. “We have to join in the process, as well.”
The Complete Count Committee is a new concept, Marx said. He said because the state and Census Bureau no longer get as much federal funding as they once did, it falls on the shoulders of civilians to help ensure a thorough count of the population.
“We’re simply denied access to resources we need to naturally carry out the census,” Marx said.
The committee will not be responsible for census collection or distribution. The primary goal is to distribute information and encourage people to do complete the census survey, which will be available online this year starting in April.
During the meeting on Monday, participants suggested working with local government and schools to assist with disseminating information. They also considered working with radio outlets and businesses to spread census information.
“It’s nice to have people from various organizations with various strengths that they can bring to the community,” Marsh said.
Hastings City Councilman Matt Fong, who represents Ward 4, was at the Monday meeting. Fong said city council members have the census on their radar after going to a conference that discussed topics including the census. Fong said the census is important for Hastings because of the potential costs.
“Whatever we can do to get the word out in the community of Hastings would be beneficial,” Fong said.
The current goal is to have the committee up and running by November.
The U.S. Census Bureau provides a guide for Complete Count Committees with suggested timelines, activities and ideas for educating the schools. The guide also includes proposed committee structures and “50 ways census data are used.”
While the committees will be civilian-led and receive no funding, there are opportunities for grants from Nebraska Counts.
Marx is assisting with other complete count committees in other Nebraskan towns. He said committees already have been formed in Lexington, North Platte, Lincoln and Omaha.
The Complete Count Committee is looking for volunteers. People can contact Marsh at 402-463-0159 for information.