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Census 2020: What CMU and Mount Pleasant residents need to know

A complete and accurate count. That's what local organizers for the United State 2020 Census want from residents living in Mount Pleasant and its surrounding municipalities. 

“Our focus and goal are to get an accurate count,” Mount Pleasant city clerk Jeremy Howard said. “Whatever that number is, we want to get an accurate count. We want to count as many people that are living inside the city, students included.” 

Census Day is April 1, which means information put on the form should reflect everyone living in their homes on that date. But there will be other dates to fill out the forms. As "Count Day" is fast approaching, precincts across the country are working to achieve the most accurate counts they can. 

For Mount Pleasant, a large part of this is targeting off-campus students. 

The census will impact the city and state in important ways, which is why local municipalities within the region are working so hard to prepare for it, said Chloe Updegraff, census hub coordinator for the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance. The census will shape grants, local programs and other funds for cities throughout the state.

Mount Pleasant officials said they are concerned with a lack of participation from “hard-to-count” populations that are difficult to reach or get to participate in the census. Updegraff said these include highly mobile people, racial and ethnic minorities, non-English speakers, low-income individuals and, for Mount Pleasant, off-campus students. 

Promotion and Forms 

Mount Pleasant has been preparing for the census by getting the word out.

But there are some challenges with that. 

Unlike the 2010 census, this year's census will be conducted through an online-first model, Updegraff said. Census forms will mainly be filled out online this year, with local door-to-door census workers scaled back

The hub Updegraff coordinates is a partnership between the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance and four community area foundations located in Midland, Saginaw, Bay City and Mount Pleasant. They came together to make a fair and accurate count and reach the hard-to-count populations in the region, Updegraff said. 

Howard said citizens in Mount Pleasant will receive mail in March explaining how to go online to fill out the census form. Counts will be made from March through July. If someone consistently does not respond to an online form requests, the census bureau will move to paper for those individuals, said Mount Pleasant city manager Jacob Kain. 

Kain said approximately half of Mount Pleasant’s population is made of CMU students, with half of them living off-campus. Those living in Northwest Apartments, residence halls and graduate housing will not have to worry about filling out the form since their data will be sent to the Census Bureau by CMU, said Shaun Holtgrieve, interim associate vice president of student affairs.

Kewadin Apartments residents will have to fill out the forms. CMU can’t keep those residents' information since they can have children in the apartments. 

Off-campus residents are another story. Kain fears that students might not feel they need to fill out the forms. He said students might think that their parents will fill it out for them, or that they don’t count for Mount Pleasant since it may not be their hometown. 

Updegraff said a person’s place of residence is where they are nine months out of the year. A student living in Mount Pleasant would count. This even includes seniors who are about to graduate, since that’s where they will be living on Census Day. 

“We want to make sure that (students) are aware that even if they are leaving the state, make sure you are counted for here,” Updegraff said. 

Holtgrieve is the CMU representative for the Great Lakes Bay Regional Census Hub. He has partnered with the city, the state of Michigan and student organizations at CMU to help raise student awareness. 

“Part of our mission is to be an integral part of the city, county and the state of Michigan,” Holtgrieve said. “Because of that, we have a responsibility to do what we can to aid the city, township and county.” 

He said there will also be tabling events on campus to educate students about the census scheduled for March 26 and April 9 outside the Bovee University Center and Charles V. Park Library.

Organizations in Isabella County will help with capturing other hard-to-count populations. The Isabella County Restoration House, a rotating homeless shelter, will help with counting the homeless population. Howard also said the city will provide a computer at city hall, and some at the Veterans Memorial Library to provide a way for people with low incomes or lack of internet access to fill out the census forms. 

The Saginaw-Chippewa Indian Tribe will also be included in the Isabella County census count. Updegraff said it’s important for the members of that community to participate in the census.

Another challenge with this year’s census is a lack of trust in the government, Updegraff said, including from undocumented immigrants. A question of citizenship will not be on the census forms due to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against President Donald Trump’s push for one. She said the hub is trying to let these populations know that the question isn’t on the form and that the census is confidential. 

But with all the talk of how the city is preparing for it, a question people still might not know the answer to is: why does the census matter? 

Census Effects on City and State 

Funding is often a central issue when talking about what can be gained from an accurate census count. Updegraff said Michigan loses $1,800 for every person not counted in the census.

The federal government distributes $675 billion to states, counties, cities and local communities, she said. The state of Michigan depends on the federal government for 40% of its funding. This funding is based on census data. 

There’s also the idea of representation in Congress. Howard said Michigan lost a congressional seat after the 2010 census and was the only state to do so. The concern is if the population drops in the census again, Michigan could lose another congressional seat. 

Of course, Mount Pleasant and Isabella County will be affected by it, too. Updegraff said Isabella County is at risk of losing $104 million in annual federal funding. Mount Pleasant city manager Nancy Ridley said state seats in the Michigan House and Senate are based on population data, and potential businesses use population data to determine where they will locate.

Funding for Mount Pleasant's roads, distribution of sales tax and grants for the city are also based on population data.

Programs, including infrastructure such as WIC, school lunches, Medicare, highways and energy assistance, all use census data for funding distribution. Many revenue sharing formulas for funds from the state is based on population data, Kain said. He said it’s important to have an accurate census count so all the money Mount Pleasant is entitled to will go back into the community. 

With talks of CMU’s declining enrollment of the past few years, there could be effects from it on Mount Pleasant’s population. Ridley said it is a concern with the overall census numbers.

Holtgrieve, Kain and Updegraff all share one sentiment: students should participate in the communities they live in. 

The census count will help maintain local infrastructure. Holtgrieve said students use local resources, so it’s part of their role on campus to participate in it. 

“Because you’re a CMU student, you’re also a citizen of the county and the city,” Holtgrieve said. “(Students) use those resources that benefit from the census. Because students benefit from that, it’s blatant self-interest."

Updegraff said funding from universities comes partially through census data, along with student aid, Pell grants, scholarship programs and student health services. Both her and Kain said voting is a civic responsibility and helpful for the communities they live in. 

“Being counted is as important as voting and is a civic responsibility that we should all take seriously,” Updegraff said. “Research shows that students want to be engaged in their communities and care about important community issues. 

"Being counted is a way they can participate in our democracy and work to make the community the best it can be.”