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Justice forms Census committee after urging

CHARLESTON — After a think tank raised concerns, Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday the creation of a committee to ensure all West Virginians are counted for the 2020 U.S. Census.

Justice, in a press release Friday, said preparations are underway for creating a Complete Count Committee to get the word out about the U.S. Census.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, complete count committees are created to help build awareness about the census, the constitutionally required count of the U.S. population every 10 years. The committees work with cities, counties, and communities to educate the public about the importance of being counted.

“Members of CCCs often coordinate with area schools, businesses, churches, media outlets, government offices and other resources to make the public aware that the census is approaching, explain the critical importance of an accurate count, and dispel any myths or alleviate any fears about the privacy and confidentiality of census data,” according to the Governor’s Office.

While some cities and municipalities have formed their own committees, the state expects its committee to be up-and-running soon. As soon as the plans are finalized, Justice will make appointments to the committee.

“These committees typically consist of community leaders, who are tasked with developing and implementing a 2020 Census awareness campaign based upon their knowledge of the local community, to encourage a response,” the Governor’s Office said.

On July 25, Justice signed a proclamation in support of the U.S. Census, encouraging all residents to participate in the survey.

Census survey data is used to redraw state and congressional districts. According to a 2018 analysis by Election Data Services, West Virginia could go from three congressional districts to two districts based on 2018 estimates of state population.

Earlier this week, a state and national think tank called on Justice to create the Complete County Committee. Kelly Allen, director of policy engagement for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said census data is also used when awarding federal funds and grants. In 2016 alone, more than $900 billion was distributed to states through 325 programs that use census data.

“At risk in West Virginia is over $6 billion annually in federal funds guided by census data and one of our three Congressional seats,” Allen said. “West Virginia is an outlier in our lack of statewide preparedness for the 2020 Census. We also face unique challenges here in West Virginia that could make our census count more difficult, including our rural landscape and lack of broadband connectivity.”

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, West Virginia is one of 13 states that hasn’t already created a Complete Count Committee.

Samantha Waxman, a policy analyst for the national progressive think tank, said delays by some states, combined with a fear in some residents regarding an attempt by the Trump administration to add a citizenship question to the census, could discourage people from taking the survey.

“Many communities face the risk of not being fully counted, including many people in rural areas; communities of color; young children; people in poverty; immigrants; and LGBTQ people,” Waxman said. “People in these communities face barriers to participating in the census, such as limited language assistance, limited internet access, and housing instability.”

Besides creating complete count committees, Waxman also encourages states to allocate funding for outreach.

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com

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