PG Officials Bracing for Census Challenge

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Officials in Prince George’s County are working diligently to educate residents on the 2010 census. Typically, the county has performed favorably compared to some of the other local jurisdictions, but it is taking no chances with informing the public.

“An undercount could possibly be a loss for us and we don’t want an undercount,” said Cheryl Harrington, head of Prince George’s County’s Complete Count Committee. “We are putting forth all our effort to make sure we have a complete count in Prince George’s County.”

Harrington says a formula used by the federal government says one person going uncounted is a $1,200 loss for the county. That equates to $12,000 over the 10 year period between census counts.

Given the current state of the economy and the reductions in aid to the Prince George’s County in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s recent budget, the need to make sure the county gets a full count is greater than ever. To make sure that occurs, Harrington says Prince George’s is taking unprecedented steps to inform the public.

“The county executive has formed a Complete Count Committee,” she said. “It’s a group of citizens who are invested in the community. We’ve further broken that [committee] into five sub-committees in an attempt to reach every person living in the county.”

In 2000, the census played a huge role in changing the shape of Maryland’s Legislature. Ten years ago, Maryland’s 47th legislative district was in Baltimore City and now, after, a good showing by Prince George’s and a lackluster showing in Baltimore City, the state’s last voting district belongs to Prince George’s County.

Sen. David C. Harrington (D) now represents the 47th legislative district and he is very aware of the importance of census and the changes it can bring to communities.

“It’s vitally important that we get counted,” Sen. Harrington said. “All the money that goes to schools, roads, redistricting, and proper representation all derives from the census.”

As a direct result of the last two census counts, the county has received over $30 billion in federal funding. However, according to Sen. Harrington, those numbers would’ve been greater had the county not been undercounted.

“We had a 68 percent return rate on the census which meant that one-third of the county was not counted,” he said. “If you look at $4,000 per household, that’s a tremendous amount of dollars the county didn’t get because we were undercounted.”

Sen. Harrington, who is the former mayor of Bladensburg, believes much of the legwork will be done on the municipal level as was done 10 years ago when he held his mayoral position.

“We reached out in our newsletter and we reached out in our televised community meetings,” said Sen. Harrington. “There’s even a stronger effort to reach out to municipalities and civic groups this year.”

This time around, county officials believe the biggest hindrance to getting a complete count is the fact that people believe the census is invasive.

“We really need to let people know that it’s a safe process,” Sen. Harrington said. “People think it’s intrusive and we have to do a better job of reassuring people that it’s confidential.

This concern is especially applicable when it comes to the county’s growing immigrant population.
“[Immigrants] might be the most reluctant,” Sen. Harrington said. “Reassurances have to be made that this is not about whether or not you’re a citizen. This is about being counted.

“We have a federal mandate to educate every child. If you’re not sure about the count of the children in your area then that can lead to overcrowding in some places and none of the resources. It’s very important that our immigrant population participates.”

Sen. Harrington says that because the county’s immigrant population is so diverse, the county has to do whatever it takes to reach its immigrant population.

“Our immigrant population in Prince George’s County is extremely diverse,” he said. “We’re trying to use every organization and contact that we have that will be able to convince the many immigrants that we have to participate.”