Census officials in Southern Maryland have had to change and adapt their outreach plans amidst a global pandemic and thanks to their efforts the tri-county area has gone on to surpass its 2010 census response rate.

“The original intent was to do a lot of in-person outreach and to the schools… and then [in] March [with] the governor’s orders, we really had to pivot,” Jenny Plummer Welker, the coordinator for the Census Complete Count Committee for Calvert County said.

Census officials in Calvert County partnered with school nutrition programs — programs that benefit from census data — to give out flyers about the census when families went to go pick up school lunches.  

The Calvert Library has also done its part to spread the message about the 2020 Census by stuffing information in bags at curbside pickup and then later displaying promotions for all to see.

Even the mayors of North Beach and Chesapeake Beach have gotten in on the action by incentivizing their respective communities with a friendly bet to see which city could get the most census responses.

“If North Beach has a higher response rate than Chesapeake beach, the mayor of Chesapeake beach owes the North Beach mayor two dozen crabs, and if Chesapeake Beach ends up having a higher response rate than the North Beach mayor two dozen tacos and a couple of margaritas,” Walker said.

Prior to Covid-19, Calvert County was awarded a $20,000 grant from the state of Maryland for the first time, which aided them in their efforts to get to the people in harder to reach areas. Using a portion of those funds they were able to send out postcards announcing the census to those who wouldn’t be receiving them in the mail in certain areas.

While the census team in Calvert is pleased with their response rate standings, they aren’t slowing down and hope to hit a 90 percent response rate for the county.

Efforts to reach out to people about the census in Charles County were tough in the beginning for Amy Blessinger, who is a planner for the Charles County Planning Division. Blessinger said they had to rely a lot on social media to get the message out due to county closures.

After bans were lifted, census representatives were able to go out into the community and inform residents about the census.

Blessinger and her team went out to drive through events and other curbside programs to hand out information. They also gave out promotional items and school supplies during lunch and packet pickup to spread the word about the census.

“We’ve been trying to get out into the community and in a face to face manner which has seemed to really help our response rate,” Blessinger said.

The census, which is taken every ten years is responsible for the allocation of billions of dollars in federal funding to programs that support communities — something that is becoming increasingly important in the face of a pandemic.

“Census dollars are literally feeding families in the pandemic because the food being distributed through our schools, social service organizations and nonprofits; much of that is funded through the federal programs that use census data,” Audra Harrison, a media and partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau said.

Programs that benefit from money according to census data include; school programs, public health hospitals, school lunches, headstart programs, Medicaid and SNAP benefits, according to Harrison.

The census is also an important factor in deciding representation in local and federal governments.

“The census is important to their families, to their neighbors in their communities. We all must get counted, regardless of your citizenship status, your zip code, whether you live in a rural or more densely populated area, everyone counts and everyone must get counted,” Harrison said.

The census is available to everyone and is confidential in that responses will not be shared with the federal government or other government agencies.

There is still time to fill out your 2020 Census and be counted. The census closes on September 30.

Link to Census online form: https://my2020census.gov 

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