Next year's federal census may need more help from states than in previous years, according to the sponsors of a bill that has cleared the Colorado House.
House Bill 1239 sets aside $12 million for community outreach for the 2020 census, which will be done in a way never attempted before.
That's got pluses and minuses, according to Democratic sponsors Reps. Yadira Caraveo of Thornton and Kerry Tipper of Lakewood. That's because the 2020 census, for the first time, will mostly be conducted online, with most households not receiving the usual paper form to fill out.
That will work well in areas with good internet service, but for communities that don't have good service, if at all, the count could be a problem.
Hence House bill 1239, which will provide grants to a variety of nonprofits and local government groups that will help spread the word on the importance of the census and how it can be completed, especially in rural Colorado.
The bill won a party-line 41-23 vote on Thursday and now heads to the state Senate.
The measure is drawing complaints from some Republicans, including Rep. Susan Beckman of Centennial, who noted the federal government already plans to spent $2.8 billion on outreach for the census. She said the money in House Bill 1239 will instead go to left-leaning groups like Planned Parenthood and ACORN (which closed all its state chapters and filed for bankruptcy in 2010. It no longer operates in the United States).
Rep. Lori Saine, Republican of Firestone, said the census' only purpose is to count people to determine congressional representation and that federal funding will not be affected and can be corrected by a census done every five years by the American Community Survey. But Tipper and Caraveo said that is incorrect, particularly since participation in the ACS is far below the national census.
Much is at risk if people don't participate in the census, said Democratic Rep. Chris Hansen of Denver, who sits on the Joint Budget Committee.
"We have to get this right," he told the House, because an undercount has serious implications for the state budget. This is "an appropriate investment" for the state, he said.
Tipper and Caraveo told Colorado Politics that the bill is supported by many of the groups whose members will be called upon to help with those outreach efforts, such as Colorado Counties Inc., the Colorado Municipal League and the Colorado Farm Bureau.
The outreach efforts could help with one of the toughest parts of doing an online census: People will be mailed a personal identification number (PIN) to obtain the online census. But that PIN won't be mailed to people who use post office boxes, and the paper survey won't be mailed to PO boxes either, according to Caraveo.
The last resort is what's known as enumerators -- people hired by the U.S. Census Bureau to go to the homes of those who don't fill out the census. But Tipper and Caraveo said the agency won't hire as many enumerators as they have in the past, so local outreach efforts will become more critical, hence the need for the bill.