ROCKFORD (WREX) — 2020 is the year the United States Census Bureau is set to take the nations largest and most comprehensive survey into the digital age; a massive challenge even before the novel coronavirus hit.
"I can't even imagine what this is going to do to us long term, this is the worst possible timing for the census, that's for sure," says Sherrie Taylor, Senior Research Specialist at Northern Illinois University.
Outreach for the census is being hampered by COVID-19, causing major set backs and leaving millions of federal dollars on the line.
"If we fail to count everyone in Illinois, it could result in the state losing over $195 million per year in federal funds for each 1% we under count ourselves," says Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker.
In Rockford, dozens of in-person outreach events planned by the city have been canceled, but city officials say they are confident they can still get an accurate count.
"With so many people being home right now, one thing we're hopeful of is people will take that time to get their census done," says City of Rockford Chief of Staff Wester Wuori.
"It takes less than 10 minutes to fill out online, so there's really not an excuse for you not to do it."
The Census Bureau has extended the self-response deadline into October and experts says that is going to make the difference for our region.
"It kind of gives everybody a chance to pause and breathe and regroup," says Taylor, "figure out new ways of reaching the community and getting some of that messaging out."
Region 1 Planning Council has played an integral part in supporting our regions outreach efforts, ensuring local municipalities are maximizing census participation.
"Some of our sub-recipients have really done some creative things," says Ivy Hood, Government Affairs & Economic Specialist for Region 1 Planning Council.
"We actually held an online panel with representative Maurice West and we were able to take real time questions. I thought that was so cool to still be able to engage despite not being able to be in person."
While the pandemic may be making the task more difficult, innovation is making it possible.
According to the Regional Complete Count Committee, as of April 12, 56% of our region has responded to the census, putting us on track for an accurate count.
59% of Winnebago County and 62% of Boone County has filled out the census.
The national average is at 50% and the response rate in Illinois is at 55%.
Experts say of the people who have filled out the census in our area, 34% have done it online.