After setting aside $29 million in the state budget to help communities across Illinois prepare for the 2020 census, Gov. JB Pritzker signed an executive order Thursday fleshing out the state’s census program.
Flanked by legislators and community leaders, Pritzker signed the order at the Garfield Park Conservatory on Chicago’s West Side, one of the city’s hard-to-count areas.
Prtizker’s executive order establishes a new Census Office within the Illinois Department of Human Services, which will dole out funds to organizations doing the outreach. He also appointed a 12-person Census Advisory Panel to recommend the best ways to reach hard-to-count communities, which include people of color, immigrants, renters, children, the homeless and others.
Pritzker acknowledged the challenge of getting a complete count with the threat of the citizenship question looming. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule this month on whether the question will be allowed on the census next year.
“We will not allow the census to be used as a weapon against us,” Pritzker said. “We will protect every resident of Illinois — every resident — and ensure a comprehensive and bipartisan process to get an accurate count.”
The governor thanked members of the legislature’s black, Latino and Asian caucuses for their efforts in advocating for the $29 million appropriation, adding that the amount is the most any state will spend, per person, on census outreach.
“That is an unprecedented number for a state to kick into the census effort,” said Cook County Commissioner Stanley Moore, who leads the county's complete count commission. “This is just amazing that we were able to get this done. It took two years, and it took a great governor to understand that everyone should be counted.”
Pritzker said he did not have a timeline for the disbursement of the funds, but the Census Office and the Department of Human Services will “get on it right now.”
State Rep. Theresa Mah, D-Chicago, whose district includes many hard-to-count communities, said the goal for this summer is to establish the requirements for requests for proposals and to send them out to organizations interested in performing census outreach. “I have a lot of confidence that we’ll get it done,” she said.
Anita Banerji of Forefront, a nonprofit that is leading a coalition to increase census participation, said that the state will need to stay vigilant to get a full headcount of its residents. Since 2020 is an election year, she said residents will be bombarded with a lot of information.
“We’ve got [get out the vote] efforts that are going to be hitting the ground,” Banerji said. “So it’s vitally important that [‘get out the census’] efforts stay constant.”