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Transcript of JoCo on the Go podcast 08/26/19

Announcer: [00:01] Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Theresa Freed: [00:14] Thanks for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host, Teresa freed, a Johnson county resident and employee of Johnson County government. Well, most people are probably familiar with the census process and 2020 marks. The next census. There's already a lot of preparation for that because of the outcome of the census. It has a major impact on much more than you might think. So for about the next 20 minutes, we're going to take a closer look at what's coming up. And to get us started, I'm joined by Census Deputy Regional Director Dennis Johnson. Dennis, thanks for joining us.

Dennis Johnson: [00:46] I'm happy to be here. Thanks for inviting us.

Theresa Freed: [00:48] All right, so the census, very important, but a lot of people probably don't know why exactly, but let's get started just by talking about what the census is.

Dennis Johnson: [00:57] It a, it's kind of exciting to me anyway. I'm, I'm a nerd, but it's, it's one of the most fundamental activities that we do in our country. Back in 1790 or before that, even when our founding fathers put this country together and mothers they, they knew that we'd have to have some information about who lives here, how many, where are they? And so they instituted the Census and said once is not enough. Let's do it every 10 years. And we have where this is the 24th time we've done that. Their intent was to make sure that everybody was equally represented in the government. Over the years, that has increased the, the importance has increased. And as we look at how to divide up legislative districts, as we look at the electoral college, as we look at funding and how much comes back to each state and each metropolitan area, all of those things require the census. And so it's grown into something extremely important.

Theresa Freed: [01:55] All right. And how did you get involved in all of this?

Dennis Johnson: [01:57] Well, it's been awhile. This is the fifth time I've done a census. But I got involved simply by being a statistician and got involved many years ago and started working on some of the data collection activities and over the years found it to be such a vitally important as well as interesting and, and a wonderful way to, to help the community. So I'm actually retired and back for the fifth time.

Theresa Freed: [02:25] Wow. So very passionate about the work. I guess. It seems things are changing all the time. Technology has been updated. So how does that impact the way the census is recorded?

Dennis Johnson: [02:35] It's amazing what we're doing in 2020, we have a for the most part, encouraged people to respond online. Now this won't happen until next year, but we hope that a vast majority of people will use their phone or their computer or their laptop or their tablet and fill out the information there as opposed to writing something on paper. That doesn't mean you can't do that. We still have other ways to respond by telephone or if you need a piece of paper, we can certainly provide that as well. But the electronic part is going to save time, money and it will make everything much more accurate.

Theresa Freed: [03:11] Okay. Exactly when does this all start and what is the process and what are the steps we're going to be seeing over the next however many months?

Dennis Johnson: [03:20] For the most part, there's not a lot that you will see over the next month or so we will have workers in some neighborhoods going out to make sure that our address lists are up to date. The actual census itself takes place early next year, starting in March of 2020 and that's when every household will receive a postcard and that postcard will provide instructions for them to go online, answer the questions or make a phone call or request a paper form. So at some point in March, every household will be contacted and encouraged to respond to the census. Those that aren't able to because they don't have connection to the internet or for whatever reason, can't get it done. We will send a census taker out to visit those folks and assist them in completing know the work. And that will go on through most of the summer of 2020.

Theresa Freed: [04:12] And speaking of census workers coming door to door, people are, I don't want to say paranoid, but there are, they are very, very aware of scams and people are sensitive to providing information about themselves. So what are some of the precautions that you all are taking and what should people know when they give that information?

Dennis Johnson: [04:30] Absolutely. One of the most important things they can know is if they want to reduce the likelihood of someone coming to their house, they simply need to fill out the information when, when they receive those postcards. And that way they don't have to have someone come and assist them in filling out the information. But they, they do need to make sure that they're looking at official census documents. We will make sure the media has copies of those so that they can verify that those are the accurate documents. There'll be ways to verify employees. They can make a phone call to verify if someone has an actual employee of the census. All of our workers actually go through a background check and that background check is fairly extensive and we want to make sure that, number one, our employees are safe. Number two, our residents are safe and that we're able to do this without any incidents.

Theresa Freed: [05:22] Okay. Speaking of workers, I know you guys were making a push to get quite a few temporary workers for this project. Can you talk about that process and are you fully staffed or are you always needing more people?

Dennis Johnson: [05:33] We will always need people and, and the word is still out there. We, we definitely are still recruiting. In fact, we're picking up for a hiring our largest group of people in early parts of 2020. So we, we encourage everyone to apply. Even if you're not sure what you'll be doing, then go ahead and apply. And if you're available to work full time, part time evenings and weekends that they can all work into a Census position. We're, we want to make sure we hire people to work in their own neighborhood. Number one, they have a vested interest, it's going to benefit their community. And number two, it provides them with greater knowledge. They know the neighborhood. We don't want to bring someone in from another area that doesn't know the neighborhood. We want the workers to feel at home and the residents to feel comfortable with who's working in their neighborhood.

Theresa Freed: [06:22] And that's really important in if somebody thinks there's something suspicious happening, how did they report that and who do they report it to?

Dennis Johnson: [06:29] Well, number one, if it's, if it's an incident that they feel are very concerned about, they can call 911 and notify the local enforcement folks if they just want to verify something, we will have information that toll free numbers available on the postcard that they receive in the media. And, you can call one of our local census offices to verify if someone is legitimately collecting census information.

Theresa Freed: [06:54] All right. And just to wrap things up, I just want to talk a little bit more about the importance of people participating in this. The financial aspect of that is so important because if we don't adequately or accurately record who's in our communities, then that probably means we could reduce the amount of money that goes into those communities.

Dennis Johnson: [07:11] Right? Just on the way over here, I, I not only did I drive probably 40 miles on highways and, and city streets those, the funding for those streets and bridges and highways is based a lot on the population. How much has this area grown and therefore how much more money do we need for infrastructure, for highways, for, for water lines, for other parts of the infrastructure? And secondly, I drove by a number of schools. If we don't know how many kids there are and how many kids are coming up, we don't know how many teachers we need. We don't know what supplies they need. We don't know what school buildings are going to be adequate and where we need to increase that. All of those things are vitally important. Typically a lot of that funding comes from the federal government, but even at the state level, the funding for local school districts, they need to have that information and make sure that that's being sent into to the right areas.

Theresa Freed: [08:08] All right. Anything else you want to add?

Dennis Johnson: [08:10] I'm just excited to get this process going. It happens once every 10 years and it's, it's kind of a big deal. This information is going to last us for the next 10 years and if we don't get it right, that's going to cost us. But if we do get it right, we're going to benefit for, for 10 years and beyond.

Theresa Freed: [08:28] Wonderful. And again, just encouraging people to participate in the census. We've got a little bit of time before that work gets underway, but it is very, very important work. So thanks for joining us.

Dennis Johnson: [08:38] You're quite welcome.

Theresa Freed: [08:40] We're continuing our conversation now about the 2020 census by chatting about the Johnson County specific efforts to prepare for the census. Our guests are Chris Schneweis with Johnson County and Karen Wulfkuhle. Thank you both for joining us today.

Chris Schneweis: [08:54] Thanks for having us.

Theresa Freed: [08:55] Alright. Can you talk a little bit about what exactly the complete count committee is and how that got started and why?

Chris Schneweis: [09:02] I'm, the complete count committee is a committee of stakeholders within the community. It involves everybody from our state and local government. All the way down to municipal government, community stakeholders, like the League of Women Voters, community groups, school districts. And the primary charge of the committee is to make sure that every member that is, every person that's living in Johnson County is counted in the census when it occurs in 2020. So what we do is we work on strategies around how are we best, you know, going to outreach these groups, ways we can educate individuals so that way they know what the value is to making sure that they complete the census and what that information is used for to better the community.

Theresa Freed: [09:47] And so why is it so important? It feels like the census is a long way off. So why is it so important to involve those groups now and get them talking about this? Get their engagement?

Karen Wulfkuhle: [09:58] Yeah. part of it is because planning always takes a long time. And so bringing folks together, now we can we have the time to look at data about our community to help us understand who might be harder to count than others. When the census bureau goes, takes a look back at who participated in the previous census, they have information about what groups might be a little bit harder to count and maybe are not completely responding to the census. And so we've been looking at that data in our community and, and families with young children, people who rent, minorities, lower income individuals, all respond to the census at a lower rate for a variety of reasons. And so this planning period, it gives us time to understand that data and start to think about specific strategies that might be best to reach that audience. We're looking at ways to develop messages to that speak to those different populations. And then finding those what we call trusted voices that can go out in the community and encourage people to complete the census. So that all takes time to put that together. And that's what we'll be doing between now and the end of the year is just developing those strategies. And and then after the first of the year will really be when messaging begins and we start to be out in the community trying to be sure that everyone understands why the census is so important, why it's important that they be counted and how it benefits the community.

Theresa Freed: [11:44] Okay. And can you talk a little bit about that? We, we know that, you know, it's important for, for investing resources and things along those lines, but the information that's collected with the census, so that information is used in so many ways. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Karen Wulfkuhle: [11:59] There are a number of different estimates nationwide about how much money that is. But it's anywhere from 675 to 900 billion dollars that gets allocated. The State of Kansas gets about $6 billion and Johnson County probably receives close to about a billion dollars a year that comes to the community based on formulas that are developed using census data. So you can see it's really important that every person gets counted if the formulas for those federal dollars are based on the number of people or other characteristics of people in our community. So every person not counted means we're losing money. So allocating resources is one of the most important reasons but there's other reasons as well. Census data really helps us understand who we are as a community by looking at that demographic and economic data. It helps us know who we are and what the issues are in our community. And it helps policymakers make good decisions. So that's another important reason for being sure everyone participates in the census. It helps inform businesses. It helps them identify where they might want to open a new store or put a manufacturing plant. It helps determine where highways go. It helps determine about emergency services and where we need to have evacuation routes should that happen. So a lot of things we might not even think about really are driven by census information.

Theresa Freed: [13:46] And I guess part of the process you mentioned was trying to identify especially those who might be more difficult to reach for whatever reason in kind of coordinating with, with partners in the community to help with that process. There's work happening right now. People might, might see what, what is that?

Karen Wulfkuhle: [14:06] Well, we're working with Mid America Regional Council as part of this. They also have a complete count committee for the region and working along with them, we are recruiting nonprofit agencies that would be partners in this work. And so yeah, you'll hear us talking to groups out in the community about recruiting them to be communication partners so that they would educate and inform people that might be coming to them for services. And we're also recruiting agencies and others sites that would be assistance sites. For the first time in 2020, the census will be available to complete online. And we know that not everyone has access to the Internet at home. And so we're wanting to be sure that there are places people can go to complete the census. And so that's another thing we're working on right now is trying to recruit those organizations or places like the library or community centers that would have computers available and someone who understands kind of the census process to help them with that.

Theresa Freed: [15:17] Okay. And Johnson County is very much invested in this effort. Can you talk about our participation in terms of communications and just coordinating our messaging and things like that?

Chris Schneweis: [15:29] Yeah, absolutely. As well as convening the complete count committee our public information office is also very involved. We now have a Count Me In JoCo website that people can go out to and it gives them more information and also has resources on it. There will be some information coming up shortly where you will be able to contact us if you would like additional information. You will be able to go to that website, hit the Contact Us, be able to ask your question or if you want somebody maybe to come out and speak to your group a civic group, your organization to provide more information. We're also working with the local municipalities and all the public information officers with the cities to make sure that we have a coordinated message that's going out. We really want to make sure that the message that we're sending in the information that we're sharing is uniform across the county so that way there is no misinformation that's being sent out there. So that's a lot of what we're doing. We also have coordinated some work with Reach Healthcare Foundation who and was one of the initial people that wanted us to kind of help give this complete count committee off the ground. So, you know, like I said, across the county, we're just doing a lot of lot of things to make sure that the message that we're forwarding out to people is accurate. It's concise and it's uniform.

Theresa Freed: [16:55] All right. And that's obviously very important for a multitude of reasons because you want people to participate. But also you want people to understand that this is a safe process, that no one's trying to scam them. So how are you guys kind of getting the message out about, about that as far as making people feel comfortable with this process?

Karen Wulfkuhle: [17:15] Certainly. And that is part of the message that this is confidential, your privacy is protected and the information you provide is secure. And so that is one of the messages that'll be going out through social media as well as through any presentations. Currently one of the things that that has been posted is a video that from the Census Bureau that describes how someone can identify if someone is a census worker with an ID and picture. And there is a place people can call the Census Bureau to verify that that name, that that is a worker so that people can be confident that if they're speaking to someone who says they're with the census that is who they are representing.

Theresa Freed: [18:05] All right. So even if people fill something out online, does that just eliminate the possibility that someone will come to their door?

Karen Wulfkuhle: [18:11] Not necessarily. Yeah, the ideal is that when people get their postcard informing them about how they can complete the census, that they will go online and complete that immediately. If not, they will, someone will come to their door to ask them to complete the census. But even if someone completes a census and has answered all of the questions a small percentage of the population will get someone that comes to their door for quality control. I mean the Census Bureau is just going, will go to a certain number of households. It's a small percentage, but they will go to some households just to verify the information as a quality control measure.

Theresa Freed: [18:53] Okay. Alright. Anything else that you, you both want to add just to, to let residents know that they need to participate?

Karen Wulfkuhle: [18:59] I would just say that the census is important for a variety of reasons and that everyone can feel that they are helping make their community a better place by participating. And we'd ask that people not only inform themselves but their family, friends and coworkers so that we're sure that everyone gets counted.

Theresa Freed: [19:21] All right. Thank you very much for joining us today and to get more information about the 2020 Census and Count Me In JoCo visit, countmeinJoCo.org. Thank you both for joining.

Announcer: [19:34] You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at JoCoGov. For more on this podcast, visit jocogov.org/podcast. Thanks for listening.