One of TNOYS’ priority areas is improving equity in systems, and the 2020 Census is an important tool to ensure that young people have equitable access to services— both in Texas and across the country. An undercount could mean that Texas loses out on millions of dollars in funding for education, healthcare, public transportation, and other crucial resources. This is especially true for populations and regions that were undercounted in the last census, which includes many of the youth and families who are served by TNOYS member organizations.
One member organization, Deep East Texas Council of Governments (DETCOG), is leading the charge to increase census participation within communities that are at risk of an undercount. Based in Lufkin, Texas, DETCOG is a voluntary association of local governments that works to promote economic growth and efficiency. As an association, DETCOG serves a wide range of communities and populations, encompassing over 385,000 people across 10,000 square miles— a geographic region that is larger than six states.
DETCOG serves many communities that the U.S. Census Bureau has identified as traditionally “hard to count,” including rural areas, households that speak english as a second language, communities of color, and communities that lack reliable internet access. In response to these factors, the association created a plan that leveraged local community leaders and in-person outreach. Thanks to funding from The Hogg Foundation for Mental Health and Texas Counts Pooled Fund, DETCOG hired a team consisting of one census outreach coordinator in each of their twelve counties, and one regional coordinator to oversee them. As Lonnie Hunt, DETCOG’s Executive Director, explained,
“In our region, you’ve got to get boots on the ground. We wanted a local person to serve as census outreach coordinators, such as a retired schoolteacher, a retired postal worker, or another well-known person in the community. We looked for that person who knows everybody and is known by everybody to be the leader in that community.”
Like many organizations, DETCOG was forced to rethink their plans when the coronavirus pandemic hit. As Lonnie Hunt tells it, the team met in March to discuss what they called “the big pivot” away from many of their planned in-person activities.
To start, the DETCOG team embraced social media and web media as a way to reach many families. This included hiring a local ad agency to run ads on social media, and even video commercials for Netflix and Hulu that showed to people within DETCOG’s service area. DETCOG also used a $2,000 grant from TNOYS to purchase laptops to assist their Family and Youth Success (FAYS) program. Lonnie explained that virtual case management through FAYS became a great tool for outreach, as counselors were able to get the word out and assist clients in filling out the census during their sessions.
While the digital and web media campaigns were a success, DETCOG knew that they would need to go further to reach their full community— especially folks who would have been reached by the initial “boots on the ground” approach. One challenge for the team was reaching the many households in DETCOG’s service area that lack reliable broadband access. In response, DETCOG spearheaded a direct mail campaign that went out to 10 counties in their service area that have the lowest census response rates. They also worked with schools to include stickers and fliers about the census in school lunches. DETCOG even hosted a “2020 census parade” in several counties complete with firetrucks, school buses, etc. with messaging to encourage people to fill out the census. In addition to capturing people’s attention, the parade was cleverly timed to correspond with the household delivery of census forms.
DETCOG works with a wide range of youth and families, and their census strategy reflects the many different circumstances of this population. Each outreach activity has been underscored by a simple message: that the 2020 Census is “confidential, convenient, and crucial”. As Lonnie explains, it is important for people in deep east Texas to know that census participation means more equitable services for people who have been counted in the past. Lonnie remarked,
“If we don’t rally behind the census and are undercounted, that just means that your hard-earned tax dollars are going to support services in another state or community. Let’s bring the money back into our communities – and we need to get everybody counted to do that.”
There’s still time to respond to the census!
Looking for ways to get out the count at your own organization? Check out TNOYS’ census resources. We have compiled resources such as flyers, videos, and social media posts, and other materials to help you get Get Out the Count in your own community. Resources include: