Forefront's Census Advocacy Coalition Wins Important Victory

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Power of Collective Action - Ensuring an Accurate Count for Census 2020

IL Count Me In 2020 statewide advocacy coalition secures revision to state's census grant

For the first time in Illinois history, the Illinois General Assembly appropriated $1.5 million for community-based organizations to engage in census outreach efforts the 2020 census. The money was appropriated to the Secretary of State’s office for disbursal through a statewide grant opportunity, and in early fall of 2018, the Secretary of State’s office issued a request for proposals (RFP). However, the RFP did not specifically acknowledge census hard-to-count communities, communities that have been historically hard to count in previous census cycles. Forefront and the IL Count Me In 2020 statewide advocacy coalition had immediate concerns that the $1.5 million in grant dollars would not prioritize census outreach in our state’s hard-to-count communities.

Forefront and several coalition partners - Common Cause IL, MALDEF, ICIRR, Asian-Americans Advancing Justice - Chicago, and the Chicago Urban League - submitted a formal letter addressing our concerns to the Secretary of State’s office. Forefront then asked coalition members to sign a letter of request asking the Secretary of State’s office to hold a public hearing about the grant application and the application process. Within 18 hours, 40 community organizations signed onto the letter requesting a public hearing to ensure a transparent, fair, and equitable application and selection process.

The hearing was granted, and on Monday, November 26th, amid the first blizzard of the season, community organizations, coalition partners, and government officials came together to discuss our concerns and the census RFP language. 14 community organizations testified, illustrating the importance of a fair and accurate census count for Illinois in 2020. Illinois is at risk of losing two Congressional seats as well as significant federal funds due to the population loss of the past several years. According to a study conducted by the George Washington University, Illinois receives $19.7 billion dollars, annually, which provides direct funds for social services and resources utilized by all communities across the State. In order to keep our Congressional seats and retain our federal funding, we need to ensure that each and every resident of Illinois is counted.

On November 27th, the Secretary of State’s office announced its decision to revise the census grant application. The revised RFP will include language regarding hard-to-count communities, and provide for a more transparent grant application and selection process. This was an extremely important victory for Illinois’ nonprofit sector and the IL Count Me In 2020 coalition’s collaborative work. The date to re-release the Secretary of State’s census grant application is forthcoming.

Forefront’s Democracy Initiative serves as a liaison to government, philanthropy, and nonprofits to ensure statewide census and civic engagement coordination; this victory would not be possible without the hard work of our partnering community-based organizations. Thank you to the 40 organization that signed onto the letter as well as those who testified at the public hearing.