In wake of reports of communities at risk of being undercounted for the 2020 U.S. census, organizations in West Michigan are investing in ways to make sure people of color fill out the census and are represented.
On Tuesday, Heart of West Michigan United Way, a nonprofit organization in Kent County, awarded grants to 19 agencies in Kent County to support census outreach in undercounted communities.
Kent County is home to about 650,000 people. 10 percent of the county’s population identifies as Hispanic or Latino, and 9.2 percent identify as black. The upcoming census could lead to the worst undercount of black and Latinos in the U.S. in 30 years.
United Way presented grants ranging from $5,000 to $20,000, to agencies committed to diversity and serving diverse populations, like La Mejor Foundation and the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan.
United Way’s mission is to invest in solutions to reduce poverty in West Michigan. One of the effects of undercounting populations caused by the census is a decreased amount of federal, local, and state funding toward education, infrastructure, and other programs.
“I think it’s very important [in order to] get funding,” said Dilli Gautam, president of the Bhutanese Community of Michigan. “But also [getting the attention] of our elected officers, like ‘hey, we exist, and you do have to listen to us.’”
The Bhutanese Community of Michigan formed in 2008 to address issues facing Nepali-cultured Bhutanese refugees who settled in the Grand Rapids area around that time. They were one of the organizations awarded a grant to reach out to the Bhutanese population residing in West Michigan.
Data USA reports Asians make up about 3 percent of Kent County’s population, but Gautam says he doesn’t know of an approximate number for the Bhutanese community, specifically.
“The census played a significant role in dividing families [in Bhutan],” Gautam said. He explained that the census also had a role in placing the Bhutanese into different citizenship categories in the 1980s. This process caused many to lose their citizenship and seek refuge in other countries.
Gautam says they are using the grant money to educate the Bhutanese population, especially the elders, about the census, its importance, and to make sure they fill it out.
“If it’s not us, who would educate them about the census? The Bhutanese Community of Michigan and the individuals who work with us, are uniquely qualified to talk about this because we understand both, what happened in Bhutan, and what the census means in the U.S.,” he said.