BELOIT - With less than a year before Census Day across the country, Beloit stakeholders tasked with ensuring an accurate count met Wednesday to discuss challenges facing the group in the months ahead.
The meeting was led by Beloit Clerk-Treasurer Lori Stottler, who laid out a path for committee members. The census will be taken starting on April 1, 2020. Before then, the group will form subcommittees to focus outreach to groups likely not to take the census, including young people ages 18-to-34, non-English speakers and immigrants. The committee will host joint meetings with the city's regional contact from the U.S. Census Bureau going forward.
Stottler said she was most concerned about developing ties with the school district due to the recent administrative turnover with interim superintendent Don Childs resigning this week effective Friday. Childs was originally on the committee. Incoming superintendent Stanley Munro is set to start in July.
Stottler stressed the need to address fears surrounding the proposed citizenship question on the census proposed by President Donald Trump's administration. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would take on the case. The administration is currently facing lawsuits from dozens of states, cities and community groups who say the question would violate constitutional rights. A citizenship question has not appeared on the census for 70 years.
The Supreme Court is expected to take up the case later this month.
Until there's a ruling, Stottler said she wouldn't feel comfortable presenting census information and making a case for the vital count in fear of betraying the community's trust.
"That fear is real and we are going to have to address it," Stottler said. "It's a real concern."
One of the biggest topics covered Wednesday was how to connect with the city's diverse immigrant community, with Latino Services Provider Liaison Cecilia Ramirez noting large swaths of the city's immigrant population lacked access to internet and also faced a major language barrier, estimating there are between 40 and 100 dialects spoken in the city's immigrant community. Other committee members stressed the need to include all immigrant communities, not just the Latino population.
"The biggest challenge will be communication," Ramirez said. "We have to think about those who don't have the ability to read or write or don't speak the language to make sure we help them."
Census data is used to determine congressional representation in Washington, D.C. how public funding is allocated for various social and public services, along with painting a picture of the labor force aimed to be a guide for future economic development. Over $600 billion is distributed in public funding to communities across the country based on census data.
NAACP Beloit Chapter President Dorothy Harrell said she was concerned about incarcerated individuals at the Rock County Jail, formerly living in Beloit, that would be counted as Janesville residents.
Groups involved include city officials along with representatives from Caritas, YWCA of Rock County, Greater Beloit Economic Development Corporation, Greater Beloit Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Beloit Association, United Way Blackhawk Association, Community Action, Beloit Turner School District, Beloit Housing Authority, NAACP Beloit Chapter, Latino Service Provider Coalition, La Voz De Beloit, Central Christian Church of Beloit and Diversity Action Team of Rock County.
"It's a big job, but I think our community is up to the task," said United Way Blackhawk Region President & CEO Mary Fanning-Penny.