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Walla Walla ramps up Census outreach programs

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2020 Census comes in March

With millions of taxpayer funding at stake and challenges in counting the local population, Walla Walla County organizations are going all out to educate people about the 2020 U.S. Census survey to improve response rates.

The nationwide 10-question survey is used to understand population demographics and allocate hundreds of billions of dollars of government funding for each state and county.

Information from the 2010 Census showed the average response in the Walla Walla area was a little under 85%, Cindy Widmer, project coordinator for the Blue Mountain Complete Count Committee said.

“I am not used to being less than a B student, and frankly we were,” she said.

Each person who does not participate translates to a $1,910 loss annually in funding for 10 years, she said.

Among many local programs receiving funding, said Complete Count Committee Census Coordinator Juan Sanchez, are these that focus on children:

• Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program

• Women, Infants, and Children Program

• Student loans and Pell grants

• Medicaid for children

• Special education and after school programs

Yet, Widmer said, children are among the most undercounted populations.

Other populations that are difficult to count include immigrants; seniors; homeless people; migrant workers; college students, those usually living off campus in private housing; and people with poor internet access, Sanchez said.

Several local efforts are being coordinated to improve the accuracy of the count.

Sherwood Trust donated $25,000 to the Blue Mountain Community Fund to establish a census fund in 2018, said Julia Leavitt, the trust’s program manager.

In July BMCF worked with local leaders to apply for a state Office of Financial Management grant, said Kari Isaacson, executive director of the community fund. The effort generated $148,000 for Blue Mountain Action Council to support Census education and outreach in Walla Walla, Columbia and Garfield counties, she said.

The money is being used to pilot new ideas and ways to get more participation and response in the census through Complete Count Committee efforts.

“Be counted Census 2020” or “I count” T-shirts for elementary kids will be distributed at after-school programs along with pizza to encourage kids to participate and involve parents, Sanchez said.

He said laptops will be available so parents can complete questionnaire when they pick up their kids. Stickers, pins, magnets and school posters also are being passed out, he said.

At the YMCA through April 1, laptops will be available along with people stationed there to answer questions, Sanchez said.

Whitman College set up a table to give students pizza and information fliers.

Commitment to Community is also scheduled to host events, Sanchez said.

Lincoln Terrace Apartments as well as the Walla Walla Public Library will set up tables for the Census, he said.

“We have people working in every county we have all these committees,” Widmer said. “We have probably touched 15,000 people just in media so far; we’ve reached 40 organizations.”

Census data is also used for legislation, zoning for schools, population benchmarks and business location decisions, Sanchez said. In the 2010 Census, a U.S. House Representatives position was added to Washington state to added to reflect an increase in population.

Blue Mountain Action Council was chosen to pilot Census engagement efforts because it has been working with the community for 55 years. The data also helps fund some of their programs, such as housing and utility assistance, Sanchez said.

Sherwood Trust also gave $10,000 to Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, which includes a health center in Walla Walla, for census outreach.

It will use the money for a door-knocking campaign, phone banks and community events to expand and build trust in Census participation in undercounted locales, Planned Parenthood regional spokesman Paul Dillon said. Social media and digital outreach also will be included.

Medicaid and Title 10 dollars are key federal programs that allocate money to Planned Parenthood based on Census data, Dillon said, About $29 million in federal funds is given to help run all Planned Parenthood Health Centers in Washington, he added.

Said Widmer on the variety of local Census efforts: “We’ve learned that the stakes are high and a better response would help everyone in the community.”

Chloe LeValley can be reached at or 509-526-8326.

Chloe LeValley covers civic engagement in the Walla Walla Valley including city governments, county commissioners and other civic groups. She is a recent graduate from San Francisco State University and came to join our team in October 2019.