Local census committee seeks resources to reach residents without internet access

John Lawler and two other address the Travis County Commissioners Court.
John Lawler (left) serves as the census program manager for Travis County. He was introduced in this role July 30. (Courtesy Travis County)

John Lawler (left) serves as the census program manager for Travis County. He was introduced in this role July 30. (Courtesy Travis County)

This month, Travis County residents will receive postcards with directions on how to fill out the census questionnaire, which, for the first time, can be completed online in addition to by mail and on the phone.

The Census Bureau estimates that for every person not counted in the census, a community stands to lose $1,500 each year in funding. Federal programs whose funding is allocated according to census data include Head Start, Medicaid and Pell grants.

At a March 3 meeting, John Lawler, Austin-Travis County program manager, updated Travis County Commissioners on the efforts of the Austin-Travis County Complete Count Committee (CCC), members of which include local government officials, community leaders and representatives from area school districts.

“We’re treating this as something that needs to be localized, that needs to be focused,” Lawler said, pointing out that the most effective modes of outreach may be different for different community demographics, including African Americans, Latinos and LGBTQ individuals.

For many of these groups, Lawler said, the committee had developed targeted media outreach methods, including video, based on recommendations from CCC members.

The committee has also identified a lack of internet access, particularly in more remote areas of Travis County, as a potential barrier for filling out the census, according to a brief prepared by county staff.

As a result, the committee is looking for support from institutional and private partners to overcome this “digital barrier,” per the brief, as well as for ways to set up physical stations with internet connectivity to facilitate census participation.

Lawler said he is working to identify county facilities located in hard-to-count communities and high-traffic areas.

“We believe these would make ideal locations for mobile questionnaire stations,” staff wrote in the brief. “Additionally, we are seeking to identify any available surplus technology resources, such as tablets, laptops, and phones, that can be used for census participation by residents in Travis County facilities.”

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