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Mel Gravely

Encourage Head Start Families to Participate in the 2020 Census

Every 10 years, the United States federal government is required to collect an accurate count of all residents of this country. It’s such an important task, that the framers of the U.S. Constitution included it in the first Article:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union… The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years.”

The Census, as its called, is one of the most important factors in determining a state’s representation in Congress, as well as the allocation of federal funding, from healthcare dollars to federal highway funds. And as a federally-funded program, Head Start is included in that.

Unfortunately, populations that are served by Head Start are often undercounted by the Census, including low income residents, homeless families, foster children, immigrants, and American Indian and Alaskan Native populations. The reasons for this are varied, but they follow the same sort of structural biases that can plague poor and marginalized communities, from lack of access to the internet to impermanent housing. And with the additional stress and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Census will be even more of a challenge.

That’s why as Head Start leaders, it should be part of our mission to educate families on the importance of participating in the 2020 Census, and give them the tools to do so.

In March, each household should have received at least one postcard in the mail about the 2020 Census and how to fill it out via mail, phone, or online. However, we know that not everyone pays attention to everything they receive in the mail. Plus, with children out of school due to the pandemic, life is busy. Be sure to reach out to your families via social media, phone, text, or email to encourage them to fill out the Census if they haven’t already. Walk them through it. Hold their hand (virtually) if you have to. (The website with details on how to fill out the Census can be found at

To give you an idea on how the Census can significantly affect funding, the Sarasota, FL Herald-Tribune gave an example on how their community could miss out on $42 million in 10 years if they are undercounted by even 1%:

“The George Washington Institute for Research estimates the Census count to represent $1,000 in funding per person for each year of the 10 years of the decennial. Based on the 2010 count, that would translate into our community losing $42 million in federal support between 2020–2030, with most of those lost dollars supporting children and families. This loss would place immeasurable financial stress on those already most at risk and would have catastrophic impacts on our entire community.”

How are you educating your families on the 2020 Census? We’d love to hear your ideas in the comments!

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