Local organizations and lawmakers expressed concern Friday over the lack of applications for $20 million in state grants to boost participation in next year’s census.
The Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), the agency doling out the funds, has designed a “hub-and-spoke” model of disbursing the money. The IDHS intends to provide large grants to intermediaries in 12 regions across the state. Those groups would then provide subgrants to smaller organizations to perform census outreach on the ground.
Even after the IDHS extended the application deadline by a week, just 39 groups have applied to be one of at least 12 intermediaries in the state. Most of the applications were from organizations in the three regions covering the six-county Chicago area — 14 from groups in the city; six from suburban Cook County; and five from the collar counties. The IDHS received just one or two applications for intermediaries in each of the state’s remaining nine regions.
While Illinois leads the nation in the amount of state dollars per capita set aside for census outreach, lawmakers and local organizations are concerned there may not be enough time to get the funds to the groups on the ground. A less than robust count in the state could lead to the loss of up to two congressional seats, as well as billions in federal funding.
“I’m just trying to anticipate issues and problems since we’re so far behind,” said State Rep. Andre Thapedi, D-Chicago, at a Friday morning meeting of the state’s Census Advisory Panel. “I’m hoping that everything works out well, but in the event that they don’t and we have to [seek more applications] in those particular regions, that automatically puts those regions behind.”
Thapedi added that the regions with just one or two grant applications “are some of the most challenged areas in the state, and we definitely need good counts there.”
Ideally, the regional intermediaries will be larger organizations or city governments with the capacity to subgrant to smaller groups and to meet all the requirements of the state’s Grant Accountability and Transparency Act. The grants are meant to boost participation in Census 2020 with a particular focus on “hard to count” populations — communities where the census self-response rates have been historically low.
Steven Monroy, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the IDHS has done an admirable job of listening to advocates’ voices on the grantmaking process. However, he remains concerned. “What are the back-up plans in case there isn’t a right fit or there hasn’t been applicants coming forward in particular regions?” he asked.
If the regions with just one or two applications end up without a less-than-ideal regional intermediary, IDHS Secretary Grace Hou said the state would either work with the selected groups to address the inadequacies or encourage other groups to apply. Should more applications be necessary, Hou said the state would likely need some additional time but still “be close to meeting the deadlines.”
The state is aiming to notify regional intermediaries about their grants by Oct. 15. The regional intermediaries are to execute contracts with subrecipients by early November.
“Our big goal is to make sure that everyone can be effectively counted,” Hou said. “I believe that even if we have to [seek more applications in] a particular region, we are going to still be putting the best foot forward in terms of counting everyone in Illinois.”