Despite a concerted effort to get the word out, Baltimore City lags in returns of U.S. Census Bureau forms. The national participation rate is 62 percent, but Baltimore is lowest in the state of Maryland with 55 percent as of April 6. 

However, Kimberly Manns within the Mayor’s Office of Communication and Policy is “cautiously optimistic” about Baltimore’s return rate, which she said is comparable to cities in other states.

“Our goal is to get as many people as possible to mail it in as soon as possible before the enumeration process begins,” she said. “If they don’t return the form in the mailbox by April 21, then they’re coming to your house.”

Manns also said that unlike other jurisdictions in Maryland, Baltimore has many hard-to-reach areas which the city will be targeting over the next few weeks, starting with the “March to the Mailbox” campaign this weekend. Sponsored by the U.S. Census Bureau and led by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Sen. Catherine Pugh and Rep. Elijah Cummings, city officials, local leaders and volunteers will be encouraging citizens to mail in their census form.

“Twenty-seven census tracts have been selected in Baltimore City and the mayor’s office and the local census partnership staff are soliciting participation from individuals and groups,” said John T. Willis, who is leading the city’s census efforts.

For every 1 percent increase in participation by mail, the Census Bureau can save taxpayers $85 million by not having to send census takers door-to-door. If every household mailed back its census form, the cost of taking the census would be reduced by $1.5 billion, the federal agency said.

“We have a lot of work to do,” said Baltimore NAACP President Marvin “Doc” Cheatham of the push to get a 100 percent census participation rate.

Cheatham, a local elections specialist, blamed the city leadership for the low returns.
“We have a lot of chiefs but not a lot of recruitment of the grassroots people on the ground,” he told the AFRO. “The only way to get a high return rate is people have to be connected .”

Census questionnaires were mailed out in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area on March 15, and Baltimore officials tracking the returns said they’re content with Baltimore’s standing at the moment. But due to the economic uplift the census returns could have across the state, local leaders said that it would behoove residents to get their forms in.

“A lot of financing which is crucial to public sector activities, taxes and support is dictated by the census results,” former Prince George’s County Executive and current Baltimore-based attorney Wayne Curry told the AFRO.  “When you’re a community in need, that’s critically important.”

After Census Day on April 1, Montgomery County, Md., which borders Prince George’s on the northwest, had a return rate of 61 percent. Nationwide, Newark, N.J., posted one of the lowest return rates of any metropolitan area at 29 percent.

Census Bureau Director Robert Groves thanked citizens who have already taken 10 minutes to answer the 10 questions that will influence the country’s finances for the next 10 years.

“For those who have not yet had a chance to send it back, I’d like to reiterate that it’s not too late to participate and doing so will save a lot of taxpayer money,” he said in a press release.

The “March to the Mailbox” event will kick off at Druid Hill Park at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday.

Washington Bureau Chief Zenitha Prince contributed to this report.