Utah legislative leaders look at spending up to $1 million to promote 2020 census participation

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SALT LAKE CITY — Legislative leaders are now looking at spending as much as $1 million to help promote participation in the 2020 census after choosing not to come up with any cash last session.

"We may have dropped the ball a bit there. The dynamics of the census have changed," said Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, with more reliance on state and local governments to get residents to fill out the forms.

Vickers said legislative leaders met jointly Tuesday to talk about spending $500,000 to $1 million on the census, an issue that also was brought to closed Republican caucus meetings.

"The bottom line is we have to count everybody. If we don't, we get behind," Vickers said. Utah gained a fourth seat in Congress because of population increases measured in the last census a decade ago.

Vickers said while Utah may not see another U.S. House seat as a result of this census, that could happen in 2030. The population numbers are also key to redrawing the state's congressional, legislative and State School Board boundaries.

Census data also determines the distribution of federal funds for roads, schools and other needs.

"I’m pleased to hear they are having those conversations because it is important," said Evan Curtis, a state planning coordinator with the Governor's Office of Management and Budget and a member of Utah's Complete Count Committee.

Concerns about census participation, especially among immigrant populations, has arisen as President Donald Trump has sought to add a question about citizenship to the questionnaire. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering the issue.

Last year, Gov. Gary Herbert recommended $75,000 for a digital advertising campaign about the census directed at younger Utahns in his proposed budget. But Curtis said since then, it's become clear the state needs to step up even more.

"The more resources we have, the more we're able to do," Curtis said. "We want to make sure we reach out to all Utahns. We want to make sure all Utahns know the census is safe, easy and important."

It had seemed like the effort would have to rely on volunteers to spread the word.

In April, a year before the once-every-10-years event, Curtis said the push to get those who aren't comfortable with the new online system to take part in the census would come from a volunteer network.

House Minority Caucus Manager Karen Kwan, D-Murray, tried and failed during the 2019 Legislature to get lawmakers to allocate some $500,000 to help promote the census.

Now, Vickers said, it's clear that the advocacy role is being left largely to states.

He said it's yet to be determined whether the money would be appropriated in a special legislative session later this year or possibly moved sooner from other areas of the budget.

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Lisa Riley Roche


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