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5 states resisting creation of panels to promote the census

ORLANDO, Fla. — With billions in federal aid and seats in Congress at stake, some states are dragging their feet in carrying out one of the Census Bureau’s chief recommendations for making sure everyone is counted during the 2020 census.

Five states — Florida, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Texas — have not set up “complete count committees” that would create public awareness campaigns to encourage people to fill out the questionnaires.

In some of those states, politicians argued that a statewide body would be unnecessary, since local committees, cities and nonprofit organizations are already working to publicize the census. In others, state leaders didn’t see any urgency to act.

The once-a-decade count of the U.S. population starts in January in a remote area of Alaska. The rest of the nation takes part starting in the spring.

“We are encouraging others to join in,” Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham said this month. “The clock is ticking, and the time to join is now.”

Six states — Iowa, Maine, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin — only got on board in the past several weeks.

Officials say the committees can separate census winners from losers.

“Complete count committees are extremely effective,” said Albert Fontenot, an associate director at the Census Bureau. “It’s in the states’ interests in that they get a funding flow and congressional seats.”

Of the holdout states, all but Louisiana have Republican governors.

In Texas, a measure to create a committee died in the GOP-dominated Legislature earlier this year even though the second most populous state has the most to gain from the census — up to three congressional seats.

Some Texas lawmakers were worried about losing their seats during redistricting if population surges favoring Democrats were found in urban and suburban areas, said Luis Figueroa, legislative and policy director at the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin.

Also, at the time, the Trump administration was pushing to add a citizenship question to the form, and some lawmakers didn’t want to take a stand on the issue by promoting the census, he said. The U.S. Supreme Court later blocked the question.

Twenty-six state governments are appropriating nearly $350 million to reach people and get them to respond to the census. The amounts range from California’s record $187 million to Montana’s $100,000, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New York City is committing $40 million.

States led by Democrats have spent more per capita. Of the 11 states spending at least $1 per resident, all but North Dakota have Democratic governors, according to an Associated Press analysis.

California, which stands to lose a seat in Congress, is spending $4.73 per person, using the money to target certain ethnic communities, provide educational materials to schools and identify community leaders who can personally encourage participation in the most populous state.

Spending on outreach offers a great return on investment, said Ditas Katague, director of the California Complete Count-Census 2020 Office.

“You have to look at how many programs will suffer and how much money we will lose,” Katague said.

In 2000, when California spent $24 million, 76 percent of residents returned the questionnaires by mail, outstripping the national average. In 2010, in the aftermath of the recession and budget cuts, California spent only $2 million, and the mail response rate dropped to 73 percent, below the national average.

In Florida, the third most populous state, bills establishing a statewide committee died in the GOP-controlled legislature. With an influx from such places as Puerto Rico and Venezuela, Florida has gained about 2.5 million people since 2010 and could pick up two more congressional seats.

A spokeswoman for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he is still reviewing what action should be taken to help get a full head count. “The governor takes the census seriously,” spokeswoman Helen Ferre said.

In Nebraska, Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed a bill to create a complete count committee, saying that local committees are already doing the work and that the legislation would have given a University of Nebraska program authority to create the panel without guidance from the state.

The number of congressional seats for Nebraska is expected to remain unchanged.

Still, “ultimately I think this will be a loss for Nebraska, especially in terms of receiving federal funds,” said state Sen. Matt Hansen, a Democrat from Lincoln who sponsored the legislation. “Specifically, I am concerned children, racial and ethnic minority populations, homeless persons, and those who live in rural and isolated areas will be undercounted.”

Museum screens Omaha language documentary

With only a handful of fluent speakers, the Omaha Indian tribe’s language is at risk of disappearing. To get the word out about efforts to preserve the language, director Brigitte Timmerman and a group of Omaha tribe members made a documentary that highlights why language preservation is important.

The Hastings Museum held a screening of “UmoNhoN Iye: The Omaha Speaking” as part of Native American Heritage Month on Sunday. The screening included a question-and-answer portion with the film’s director and Octa Keen, who was one of the people featured in the film.

The screening closely followed the Native American Festival at the museum on Wednesday, where area students visited the museum to learn about Native American heritage.

A translation of UmoNhon — which is pronounced like “Omaha” but with an “oo” sound, like in the word “boo,” at the beginning — means “against the current.” The name speaks to the tribe’s immigration from the Great Lakes area to the Missouri River area in Iowa and Nebraska.

The language of the Omaha tribe is more than a method of communication, the film explains in the early portion. The language is a source of identity for the people in the tribe, being something uniquely Omaha.

As American settlers moved west into what was the Louisiana Purchase, the Indian tribes were place into boarding schools. In the boarding schools, the Indian children were discouraged and often punished for speaking their native tongue.

“Kill the Indian, save the man,” is a quote used in the film, and is accredited to Richard Henry Pratt, a superintendent of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania.

The active effort to destroy the language, combined with an aging population that speaks the language, means there are fewer people to pass the knowledge on to the next generation.

“Our history is your history too,” Keen said.

Timmerman said there are only a handful of people currently fluent. Since the film began production in December 2015, there have been eight elders and one tribal leader who died.

Many of the elders who are fluent now teach children from preschool through college.

“You got to get them young,” Keen said during the question-and-answer portion. “When they get older, they have other interests.”

Materials for an Omaha language curriculum include picture books and phone apps. The materials are being made with the help of organizations like The Language Conservancy, a nonprofit group.

Many of the elders in the documentary say that the children can understand what their elders say, but have not yet learned to speak it.

After the film, Keen said that there has been a “resurgence” of the language, especially with younger people.

The film also spoke about preserving other cultural aspects of the Omaha Tribe. There is an annual powwow in Macy, Nebraska, during the first full moon of August. There, the Omaha tribe gathers for traditional dancing, music and food. It is also a chance for people to learn about the Omaha religion.

The documentary won Outstanding Documentary 2019 from the Western Heritage Awards National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. It also won Best Documentary 2018 from the Red Nation International Film Festival.

The film said the Omaha language isn’t the only indigenous language at risk, stating that when there were once 600 languages spoken by Native American tribes, there are now less than 100. Timmerman said that the United Nations declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages.

Salvation Army goes high tech with kettles

Out of spare change? No problem. The Salvation Army has gone high tech across the United States this year to make it easier for givers to give this holiday season.

As of Nov. 1, the 37 red kettles used locally for collecting donations on store counters and in front of area stores now contain a QR code that enables would-be contributors to access the internet on their cellphone or tablet to make a donation from their bank account or credit card using Apple Pay or Google Wallet digital wallet service.

“It’s the wave of the future,” said Major Dale Brandenburg, who heads the Hastings Salvation Army location. “Nobody carries money anymore, and this year the Salvation Army is just embracing that.”

If the idea doesn’t sound completely new, there’s a reason for that. Hastings Salvation Army kettles actually used this technology last year. But hardly anyone noticed.

“We experimented with it last year, but we didn’t really talk it up like we’re doing this year,” Brandenburg said. “We didn’t have the national exposure. This year it’s rolled out all across the U.S.

“We’re hoping with it being national and every Salvation Army doing it and every officer talking about it that we’ll have more success with it this year.”

Brandenburg manned the storefront kettle offering access to both digital wallet services and physical currency at his usual location in downtown Hastings during this year’s Celebration of Lights event Thursday evening. Area storefront kettles will appear Monday at Allen’s of Hastings, Russ’s Market, Walgreens, Big G Ace and Walmart Supercenter.

Volunteer bell ringers still are needed to tend the storefront kettles. And as with the kettles themselves, technology is available to help volunteers sign up online. Visitors to registertoring.com can simply type in their zip code to find the various kettle locations needing help and what time slots are available and sign up to fill them online.

“It shows what hours are open, what hours are filled, and you can take as many hours as you want,” Brandenburg said. “It’s not hard at all if you’re a techie and like doing things on your cellphone or computer.”

Based on previous years, Brandenburg said he is confident Hastings residents once again will make this year’s fundraising drive a success.The kettle drive is the Salvation Army’s primary fundraiser of the season.

“We’ve reached our goal the last four years because people here in Hastings have been so supportive of the Salvation Army,” he said. “We’re hoping this year this will make it easier for people to give and for us to reach our goal by having this new way of donating.”

Families celebrate addition of children on National Adoption Day

With stuffed bears in their arms and big smiles on their faces, 10 children walked out of the Adams County courtroom and into their new lives as adopted sons and daughters Saturday.

“Once in awhile, we get to do things, like today, where we can bring someone joy and happiness,” said Judge Michael Mead, who presided over the final adoption hearings.

The stuffed bears were given during the 15th annual National Adoption Day in 10th Judicial District.

The stuffed bears aren’t teddy bears, but Offner bears, Mead said. It is a continuation of a tradition started by Judge Michael Offner, who died in December 2014.

aroh / Amy Roh/Tribune  

Jayden Fuller, 3, is all smiles after his adoption is made official Saturday at the Adams County Courthouse. Jayden was adopted by Warren and Brandy Fuller.

Offner understood the significance of adoption, having been been adopted himself and as an adoptive parent. He started purchasing the bears out of his own pocket and giving them to children as a way of celebrating the adoptions, said his wife, Janet.

Normally, adoption hearings are conducted in closed meetings because of their personal nature and the involvement of children. But National Adoption Day helps raise awareness of the process and the positive impact adoption has, Janet Offner said.

“We pass out Offner bears so everybody knows how special adoptions are,” said Judge Michael Burns, who presided over several of the hearings Saturday.

aroh / Amy Roh/Tribune  

Josh Konen, 3, picks out an “Offner bear” during his adoption hearing Saturday at the Adams County Courthouse. Anthony and Gianna Konen adopted Josh and his brothers Cesar, 10, and George, 2, during National Adoption Day. Each child adopted at the Adams County Courthouse Saturday received a stuffed bear donated by the Offner family in memory of Judge Michael Offner.

National Adoption Day hearings are only open to approved friends and family, but are scheduled, if possible, on the same day to make the celebration bigger.

Following the final hearings, the families gathered at the 18th Street YMCA for a celebration of pizza, face paint, games and a magic show.

For siblings Alex, Rihanna and Joe, their adoption day included the change of their last name to Hubbard.

“They have been asking forever, ‘When can we put Hubbard as our last name?’ “ said adoptive parent Denise Hubbard, as she pulled up a photo of a school assignment where Rihanna had written “Rihanna Hubbard.”

The three siblings have been in foster car for about three years, after they were removed from a relative of Denise and her husband, Craig. Denise and Craig also doubled the number of children they have, from three to six, with the adoption.

“They have been here so long, it would have been tough without them,” Craig said.

Allison, 3, also took the last name of her new parents, after being adopted by Jason and Elizabeth Baker. Allison, who suffers from various medical conditions, has been under the care of the Bakers since September 2017.

Jason said the final hearing for Allison’s adoption has been “a breath of fresh air,” after various challenges during the adoption process.

“She was always our daughter, from day one,” Jason said.

Jason’s stepson Ethan Rogers said he is excited and ready to take care of his official younger sister.