Ellen Betel Lenore Crawford
Ellen Betel, right, helped her mother, Lenore Crawford, complete the 2020 U.S. Census form online. (Credit: Ed Betel)

Detroit’s Jews in under-represented populations respond to the 2020 Census.

By now, every American has received an invitation to respond to the 2020 U.S. Census.

This letter from the U.S. Census Bureau provides an individual Census ID number for easy response on the internet, along with a phone number for assistance, with a requested deadline of April 1, 2020. Through the next few months, census takers will be following up with households who do not respond or who require special assistance to do so.

The 2020 Census data will allocate federal resources (money) and federal representation (the number of representatives in the House of Representatives) according to the population distribution of respondents. So, there’s a lot at stake. Every person needs to be counted.

But there are potential obstacles for some respondents, including lack of fluency in English, vision limitations, cognitive impairments and mental health problems.

The U.S. Census Bureau, local governments and nonprofit agencies are engaged in a multimedia campaign to encourage everyone to complete their census forms.

“We want to make sure that everyone can respond to the 2020 Census,” said Char Yates, a Census Bureau media specialist based out of its regional office in Chicago. Yates added that the bureau provides translated web pages and guides in 59 non-English languages, as well as in Braille and large print.

Reaching Everyone in the Jewish Community

In Detroit’s Jewish community, Jewish Senior Life (JSL) has many residents whose first language is Russian. Most live in the Teitel and Prentis apartments in Oak Park, which together have more than 340 apartments.

While these residents typically understand some English, filling out even a simple form may be daunting, and a government request for information might seem to be of more concern than it would for someone born in the U.S.

However, a bilingual conversation with two Russian American residents of Teitel Apartments indicated an understanding of the purpose of the census and a willingness to complete the form.

Larissa Kleshchik, Teitel’s resident service coordinator, translated when necessary during an interview with residents Valentina Tsaregorodseva and Paulina Novokshchenova. Valentina  emigrated from Shakalin Island in Russia two years ago. Paulina moved from the Moscow area nine years ago.

Both had heard about the census. “It’s very important. Every vote counts, depending on where people live. It’s important to know demographics,” Valentina said.

Each woman planned to try and complete the forms, probably with assistance from family members or Kleshchik, who helped residents 10 years ago with the previous census. However, due to coronavirus restrictions that have taken hold in Michigan since this interview, family members and others cannot visit any JSL residence, so their interaction is limited to phone calls and email. Kleshchik says many residents have received their forms, and some have contacted her for help.

At JSL’s Meer Apartments in West Bloomfield, administrator Marcia Mittleman says they posted a notice about the importance of the census some time ago, offering assistance, if needed. She says many of their residents are college-educated and a large number have computers.

Meer has a volunteer who normally helps residents with any computer issues, but communal activities have been canceled due to COVID-19. However, a Meer social worker is helping some residents complete the form online or by phone. Only a “handful” of residents have left Meer to move in with their families because of the pandemic, Mittleman says.

JSL also operates assisted living facilities, including Fleischman Residence in West Bloomfield. Jo Strausz Rosen, JSL executive director of development, said, “These forms are overwhelming for them. Some have family members who do not live close by and would rely on the help of our staff and volunteers.”

Mary Blowers, activity director at Fleischman, said she will “make rounds on all three floors, including the residents of the memory care floor.” She assisted individuals who needed help voting in the recent elections and plans to do the same for the census.

Lenore Crawford, 91, lived at All Seasons West Bloomfield until recently, but moved to her daughter’s home after several people there tested positive for COVID-19. Her daughter, Ellen Betel of West Bloomfield, was a civics and government teacher, who understands the importance of the census.

“Mom did fine with it,” Betel says. “We (Ellen and her husband Ed) did it for her, with her and with her understanding.”

Reaching Those in Group Homes

Residents of group living situations, such as skilled nursing facilities, residential treatment centers and group homes, are also supposed to be included in the census count. To accomplish this, the Census Bureau contacts an administrator at each group facility to include all residents in the census count.

In Detroit’s Jewish community, two agencies — JARC, based in Farmington Hills, and Kadima, based in Southfield — operate group homes.

At JARC, which provides residential and support services for people with developmental disabilities, Kristen Mack, chief program officer, spoke to a Census Bureau staff member as a first step to ensure that JARC’s group home residents are included in the count. Shaindle Braunstein, JARC’s CEO, said that Mack will complete the census tally for JARC when the form is provided.

Kadima offers residential, therapeutic and social services for those with mental health issues. Eric Edelman, Kadima’s executive director, said, “The Census Bureau has reached out to Kadima to ensure that the people we serve are included in the census. This is even more important as vulnerable populations, including people with chronic mental health challenges, are often undercounted.”

As of the third week of March, Kadima hadn’t received the census form, but Edelman says it could have been delayed because of the public health emergency.

Even with the coronavirus pandemic, the work of the 2020 Census continues, although more time has been allocated for certain interim goals. The first “nonresponse follow-up and re-interviews” were scheduled for May 13-July 31, but have been pushed back to May 28-Aug. 14.

By Dec. 31, 2020, the U.S. Census is scheduled to deliver each state’s total count and then provide local counts needed for legislative redistricting by April 1, 2021. It’s a huge job requiring everyone’s cooperation.

Why It’s Important

Answering nine simple questions is estimated to take less than 10 minutes, but it can help ensure that each community receives its fair share of $675 billion in federal funds for highways, police and fire protection, job training, school lunches, health care and much more.

Many federal program funds are allocated based upon population, so the government needs to know who lives where, including age, housing type and other basic demographic data. Congressional representation also is determined by the Census.

Our Role in the Census

New Michigan Media, a consortium of ethnic and minority news outlets across the state that includes the Jewish News, has been actively involved in encouraging Census participation among its collective audience. Over the last few weeks, NMM’s outreach initiative (supported by the Michigan Nonprofit Association) has focused on maximizing Census responses among its broad and diverse coalition of readers, viewers and listeners.

You have seen this outreach in the pages of JN, in the form of public service advertisements, joint editorials from NMM publishers and other op-eds on the importance of the Census from community leaders.

For those who have not yet responded to the Census, it’s not too late. Once stay-in-place restrictions lift, you will receive a paper questionnaire, phone call or home visit from a census taker. Please take this opportunity to respond so that you are counted and your Jewish community, and all Michigan communities, can benefit from your participation.

Facts about the U.S. Census

• The goal of the census is to include everyone who lives in the U.S. in its count. Respondents do not need to be citizens. Nor can census data be used to deport undocumented people. Census data is secure and individual data is confidential.

• English literacy is not required. Resources are available in 12 other languages.

• The Census is required by the U.S. Constitution and responding to it is required by law.

• This is the first census that can be completed online, as well through the U.S. mail or by phone. Responding online helps conserve natural resources, save taxpayer money and process data more efficiently, according to the initial Census invitation letter.

• Individuals who haven’t responded online or by phone by April 1 will receive a paper questionnaire in a few weeks. Those who still have not responded will receive a phone call or home visit.

• For help in English to complete the form, call toll-free 1-844-330-2020. The initial invitation letter includes phone numbers for help in 12 additional languages.

• Hearing impaired individuals can call 1-844-467-2020 toll-free for telephone display service (TDD).

• Visit my2020census.gov for more detailed information.