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With Pandemic Hampering Census Efforts, Cook County Officials Seek More Help With Population Count

CHICAGO (CBS) -- With the deadline to respond to the 2020 Census still four months away, officials said the COVID-19 pandemic has strained their ability to get a high response rate, and they are asking for more people to sign up to be Census takers to reach out to traditionally under-counted communities.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said, due to the pandemic, officials had to adjust their outreach strategy to protect the health and safety of census takers and the general public.

"Let me be clear, the COVID-19 pandemic has made our efforts to achieve a high response rate much harder," she said.

Preckwinkle said Census officials coordinated with elected leaders and community organizations to enhance outreach online, as well as through distributing lawn signs, providing informational inserts in newspapers, and passing out informational flyers at food pantries and PPE distribution sites.

As of Wednesday, the Census response rate in Illinois has been 66.5%, compared to a final response rate of 70.5% for the 2010 Census. In Cook County, the response rate has been 61.3%, compared to a final response rate of 66.1% in 2010.

Officials noted hundreds of billions of dollars in federal, state, and local funds at stake during the Census, as the results of the population count help determine how much funding states receive for various projects.

"The funding to your community for roads, for libraries, for senior citizens' facilities, for Pell grants; this funding from the data that's collected for the 2020 Census will help in the distributing of those funds," said Marilyn Sanders, the Census Bureau's regional director for Chicago.

The original Aug. 14 response deadline for the Census was pushed back until Oct. 31. Census takers normally would have begun interviewing households that haven't responded to questionnaires in May, but now will begin visiting homes for interviews in August.

Sanders said officials will be mailing reminder cards scheduled to arrive in late July, before Census takers start visiting households. She said Census takers are being trained on how to safely collect data during the pandemic; and will be following all federal, state, and local health guidelines to ensure both census takers and the public are safe.

The Census Bureau is still working to recruit Census takers in communities that are traditionally under-counted during the decennial count of the U.S. population. African Americans, Latinos, and children under age 5 are most likely to be overlooked, according to estimates by the Urban Institute. Immigrants in particular have been under-represented in the Census, because many undocumented immigrants fear law enforcement will get the information.

Sanders said areas where the Census still needs help with the count include the Austin, North Lawndale, West Garfield Park, New City, West Englewood, and South Chicago neighborhoods, among others.

Officials asked people who have already responded to the Census to encourage their friends and family to do the same. Census questionnaires were mailed to homes weeks ago, and if you've already received your questionnaire, you can fill it out and mail it back. People also can fill out their Census forms online or by phone.

The Census has hotlines in 14 languages:

Cook County also has launched an online Census by the Numbers dashboard, which shows how much the county has been spending on Census efforts – including administrative costs, advertising, event fees, and marketing.

Click here for more information on the U.S. Census and how to submit information.

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