Census 2020: It’s Time to Stand and Be Counted


By Arlene Fickler

headshot of authorThis week, we celebrated Rosh Hashanah, marking the beginning of the year 5781. As I reflect back on the year that ended and look forward to the year ahead, I think that these years will be remembered as ones in which we engaged in much counting: How many people have been infected with the coronavirus? How many people have died from that illness? How many days have passed since we last went to our workplaces, or our schools, or our synagogues physically and not virtually? How long has it been since we last hugged a grandparent or held a grandchild? How many minutes did Officer Chauvin hold his knee on the neck of George Floyd? How many fires are raging in California? How many days remain until the 2020 election?

This year also marks the 24th time in which the United States is counting how many people reside within our borders through the 2020 census. I am writing to urge that, between now and Sept. 30, when the census counting ends, we all do our part to ensure that everyone is counted — both by responding to the census on behalf of our households, if we haven’t already done so, and by urging others to do the same. Please reach out to everyone you know — workplace colleagues and employees; clients, customers and patients; synagogue congregants; school teachers and students’ parents; friends and family members — to remind them that the deadline to respond to the census is Sept. 30, a date that is rapidly approaching.

Unfortunately, with little time remaining until the deadline, only 55% of Philadelphia’s households have responded to the census. That’s potentially devastating not only to Philadelphia’s representation in Congress but, potentially more significantly, to the billions of dollars that are annually allocated to our communities by the federal government.

For the next 10 years, the federal government will rely on the collected 2020 census data to guide distribution of $1.5 trillion in annual spending across 316 federal programs.

For example, in the context of planning and funding for health care, census results will affect programs such as Medicaid, Medicare Part B, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.

Similarly, the 2020 census count will impact the allocation of federal funds for critical programs and services for schools, students and younger children, such as special education, Head Start, after-school programs and classroom technology.

In the context of food insecurity, a Jewish Federation priority, census data will control funds available under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program known as SNAP, as well as for free and reduced-price school lunches. The 2020 census data will be particularly important because it will be used in determining the distribution of funds for pandemic recovery.

As the arm of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia devoted to public policy education and advocacy, government affairs and community relations, the Jewish Community Relations Council, which I chair, frequently reaches out to ask you to communicate with your elected representatives about issues important to the Jewish community — including legislation that provides funding for our seniors, for our children, for our economically disadvantaged.

Today, I am asking you to advocate to your communities about the importance of responding to the census — because it is the census population data that is the predicate for the distribution of many of the funds for which we advocate legislatively. In other words, after the legislation for which we advocate has passed, it is the census data that determines what share of the funds comes to our region.

To illustrate, each additional person included in the 2000 census resulted in an annual additional Medicaid reimbursement to most states of between several hundred and several thousand dollars, depending on the state. Our legislative advocacy efforts will be multiplied by our success in making sure that everyone in our geographic area is counted.

The census form can be found at 2020census.gov and can be completed online. The deadline for submitting the forms online or mailing them is now Sept. 30.

Over the High Holidays, we will be repeatedly inspired by our liturgy and our clergy’s sermons to make every day count, rather than counting our days. Our communal efforts to assure that everyone residing in the five-county Philadelphia area responds to the census is one way that we can make our days over the next few weeks count.

As Jews, we have a long tradition of valuing every soul. Please do what you can to make sure that everyone living in the greater Philadelphia area gets counted in this decennial American census.

Thank you in advance for your efforts. L’Shanah tovah u’metukah.

Arlene Fickler is the chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. This piece first ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer.


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