Count Me Latino rally urges everyone to return census forms

At the Count Me Latino rally on the eve of Census Day, local lawmakers urged the crowd to fill out their census forms and mail them back. The mostly Latino crowd held signs that read “Today WE count” at the event, hosted by the National Hispanic Professional Organization (NHPO), along with Hispanic Organizations Working Together as One (HOWTO).

Although Census Day lands on April 1, the 2010 census is no joke. $400 billion in federal funds is at stake. The money is distributed based on population, which is why it is critical that everyone stand up and be counted. Congressional representation is also based upon population, and Texas hopes to acquire another four national congressional seats.

For those households that did not mail in their census forms by the April 1 deadline, census workers will start to make housecalls around May to get the information and fill out the forms with them. Therefore, it is important to get the message out that “it’s okay to answer the door”.

District 5 Constable Bruce Elfant acknowledged that there is “a challenge with the immigrant community, who are scared to death that this information is going to be used [against them]; folks with criminal histories who are afraid that this is going to be used to arrest them, and it won’t; students who aren’t paying attention who think their parents can do it for them, and they can’t; and then we have the skeptics who just don’t want government to have this information.”

“Historically, Hispanics are undercounted,” said J.R. Gonzales, National NHPO President. To address a primary concern of the immigrant Hispanic community, he said that the information reported in the census is safe and kept confidential for 72 years.

While the rally stressed the importance of having the Hispanic community represented, Gonzales made it a point to say that “everybody needs to fill out the forms because it’s going to help the entire community.”

“Each person who does not complete the census costs Travis County $15,000,” said Elfant. If 1% of the population does not report in the census, that’s $150 million in federal money that we don’t get for our community.

Texas State Representative Diana Maldonado said that an estimated $235 million was left on the table for Travis County from the 2000 census.

At the podium, Senator Kirk Watson urged the crowd to push their friends and family members to participate in the census if they cared about education and healthcare dollars being available to their city and state.

Texas is below the national average and ranks 48th in terms of Census response rate, barely ahead of Alabama and Alaska.

By Vicky Garza

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