Urgent Need Signaled for Michigan’s “Be Counted” Census Campaign

Benton Harbor and South Haven are among the 26 cities that have launched virtual volunteer phone banks across the state as Michigan’s “Be Counted” census campaign issues an urgent call for additional volunteers to staff those phone banks in completing the 2020 census. More than 2,800 calls have already been made in Benton Harbor.

Leaders of Michigan’s “Be Counted” campaign to promote the 2020 census have issued an urgent statewide appeal today calling for more businesses, nonprofits and individuals to sign up to serve as volunteers from home in virtual phone banks that encourage filling out the form.

Michigan Statewide Census Director Kerry Ebersole Singh says, “Because of the coronavirus outbreak, all 2020 census field operations were suspended, and that has significantly delayed our effort to ensure all Michiganders are going to be counted in 2020.”

Singh is voicing concern, saying, “We have an immediate, urgent need for volunteers who are willing to commit to making phone calls from home using a virtual phone bank and reminding their fellow Michiganders to complete the census.”

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The “Be Counted” campaign’s appeal comes as census organizers across Michigan are still looking to resume the grassroots activities, constituent outreach and community events that were on tap before the spread of COVID-19 forced the cancellation of those plans.

The request for virtual phone bank volunteers extends to every region of the state. Statewide, more than 4.3 million Michigan residents are estimated to be hard to count or less likely to complete the 2020 census, as measured by federal data on expected response rates.

Virtual volunteer phone banks are now operating in 26 cities including:

  • Benton Harbor
  • South Haven
  • Albion
  • Big Rapids
  • Detroit
  • Ecorse
  • Flint
  • Hamtramck
  • Highland Park
  • Jackson
  • Kalamazoo
  • Lansing
  • Livonia
  • Mount Pleasant
  • Muskegon
  • Muskegon Heights
  • Pontiac
  • Port Huron
  • River Rouge
  • Saginaw
  • Sault Ste. Marie (Upper Peninsula, all)
  • Sterling Heights
  • Warren
  • Wixom
  • Wyoming
  • Ypsilanti

Virtual phone bank crews throughout Michigan have placed more than 84,000 calls to promote the 2020 census thus far, including nearly 44,000 calls in Detroit, almost 11,000 in Lansing, approximately 4,600 in Battle Creek and more than 2,800 in Benton Harbor. The phone banks in Flint, Saginaw and the U.P. have just started, and organizers in those cities are eager for volunteer support.

The “Be Counted” campaign also is looking to add more cities upon request and will train volunteers from a new area or group if their community is not already on the list.

Singh reports that, “While Michigan is currently third in the country in our self-response rate, numerous Michigan communities are 20-percent or more below in 2020 participation compared with their response levels from 2010,” and adds, “That’s why we’re pushing for more volunteers to help us staff the census phone bank while they’re staying at home to help stop the spread of the COVID disease.”

Prospective candidates interested in registering as individuals or as an organization are required to schedule and participate in a one-hour online training session by visiting this link: https://www.michigan.gov/census2020 and going to the Partner With Us section.

The e-trainings are offered weekly at noon on Mondays and 2 pm on Wednesdays. Volunteers who complete the training are provided with scripts and answers to frequently asked census questions that may arise during the conversations. They have two options to choose from on whom to call:

  • Michigan’s “20 x 20” phone outreach campaign, where volunteers agree to make 20 calls to 20 people they know, such as family, friends, congregants at their local church or acquaintances in their area. These volunteers can decide whether to use their own personal phone lists or receive one of the state’s proprietary lists that aligns with where they live.
  • Volunteers can also make calls to people they may not necessarily know but who live in their area. These residents are included in the state’s proprietary downloadable lists of people to call in their respective community or region.

Michigan Statewide Census Deputy Director Dichondra Johnson, who is coordinating the state’s “Be Counted” phone bank program, says, “We make the experience of learning how to be a census virtual phone bank volunteer as easy, understandable and hassle-free as possible.”

Johnson explains, “We welcome adults of all ages who are at least enrolled in high school or older, of all backgrounds and all skills to help us boost the census count in their neighborhoods, city, county or region – and you can make the calls while remaining in the comfort of your living room, basement, kitchen, backyard or favorite place to relax.”

More than 100 organizations statewide – ranging from the Arab American and Chaldean Council in Southeastern Michigan to the Great Lakes Bay Hispanic Leadership Institute and Genesee Health Plan in Flint to the YWCA Kalamazoo to the Superiorland Library Cooperative in the Upper Peninsula – have already registered volunteers to serve as virtual phone bank callers.

The push to recruit virtual phone bank volunteers is especially great in cities like Detroit and Flint.

In Flint, the city’s 47.1-percent completion rate is almost 15-percentage points behind its performance of 62-percent at this same time in 2010. During the 2010 census, Detroit had one of the lowest self-response rates in the nation for cities of its size, with only 53.6-percent of residents filling out forms. Last week, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Detroit’s 2020 self-response rate was approximately 47.2-percent.

Flint and Detroit both had planned to run a major campaign in March, April and May to get residents to fill out their forms. But officials had to cancel a combined total of nearly 200 in-person events in each city once the pandemic hit.

Detroit 2020 Census Campaign Executive Director Victoria Kovari says, “The census matters now more than ever, especially given the circumstances.” She adds, “We’re going to continue to work hard to get the word out about how important the census is to Detroit. A key part of our strategy has been to rely on virtual volunteers, and we will continue to do that while we begin to start up our outreach in the field.”

The 2020 census includes just nine questions: name, age, gender, ethnicity, race, number of people in the household, anyone else staying in the house on April 1, 2020, if you own or rent your home and your phone number.

Filling out the 2020 census is more convenient than ever. The form can be completed by mail, phone and – for the first time – online. All information shared on the census is 100-percent confidential and helps determine federal funding for health care, education, senior programs and other services Michiganders rely on every day. An accurate census count also determines how many seats Michigan has in Congress.