Elected officials and local leaders in Baltimore City say they are working diligently to get the word out about the April 1 census distribution. They don’t want a reoccurrence of the poor participation rate that dismissed 12 delegates and a state senator from Annapolis 10 years ago. According to the Complete Count Committee, the city collected the second least number of surveys throughout the East Coast in 2000. And, NAACP president Marvin Cheatham said, Baltimore is preparing to experience déjà vu.
Cheatham believes the city failed in one key area regarding the previous census—community outreach — and said the same mistake is currently being repeated.
Facilities for recovering addicts, homeless residents, immigrants and newly released prisoners also form a dense population that is highly underrepresented by the census, he said. In order to reach those groups, Cheatham said it is imperative that trusted members of those communities encourage others to complete the census and mail it in.
“What you have to do is connect with the community—every barbershop, hair salon, nail salon, every place that sells chicken,” he said. “You’ve got to put them where people will find liquor. That’s where you advertise.”
The census only consists of 10 questions, but if they are not answered, Baltimore City could lose millions of dollars and more power at the capital. Once the largest jurisdiction in the state of Maryland, Baltimore City lost three delegates and a state senator in 2000 because all residents were not counted.
“When you lose representation in Annapolis, that means you lose power,” Cheatham said. “If you’re not one of the big boys that go down there, your chances are not that good. All of the funds that come from the federal government that go into cities we lose out on because we’re not counting everyone.”
Pushing the census earlier this year than in 2000, Sen. Nathaniel McFadden warns that the fewer the number of persons that turn in the surveys, the less resources the city receives. Schools, health programs, libraries and other public facilities are all determined by the census count. Prince George’s and Montgomery counties picked up a larger number of people in 2000 and therefore gained representation at the capital, but the opposite happened in Baltimore City.
“This is very important,” McFadden said. “Everybody is counted. If we don’t get an accurate count, that power shift will work to the disadvantage of the City of Baltimore.”
He believes the city was undercounted in 2000 due to census takers being unfamiliar with the communities they were in.
“We think it’s absolutely essential that the indigenous people in the community go out and collect surveys,” McFadden said.
Cheatham contributes lack of census participation to residents’ fear that their privacy is being invaded, which is another reason why he says community outreach is vital this year.
“On paper, an excellent program,” Cheatham said. “They know where they need to go and I commended them for that. But you better get the right people to carry out the plan, and I’m not seeing the people on the ground at this point. The same thing that happened 10 years ago, I’m sad to say, is about to happen again.”