‘10 minutes, makes 10 years of funding’: Seeing the census through the pandemic

FLINT, Michigan—The U.S. Census Bureau is reworking its 2020 census strategy due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Local volunteers and coordinators like Anthony Turner, City of Flint census coordinator, are amending their engagement tactics so they don’t breach social-distancing concerns while also getting people thinking about the long-term benefits of filling out the short survey.


It’s a 10-minute survey that has a decade-worth of impact on communities across the country. This is especially the case with a city like Flint that has undergone a water crisis, a major digital divide, school closings, a shrinking population, and now the Covid-19 pandemic. Answering the survey can bring the community sustainable security after the pandemic has run its course said Turner.


The estimated $1,800 per person would go towards programs and organizations that offer assistance to vulnerable populations as well as give funding to development and infrastructure projects for the city. As of April 19, Flint has a 41% self-response rate compared to 56.9% statewide self-response rate.


Flint is his hometown and this isn’t his first go-round with engaging his city in the census process. The goal, Turner said, is to ultimately exceed expectations no matter what, like he helped to do in 2010.


“When I was brought on, and I read the memo, ‘Census Bureau expects Flint to only achieve a 61 percent response rate.’ That infuriated me,” said Turner in a Facebook live interview. “...I know from past experience when I was over the Census here in 2010, they told me the same thing, but I closed out at 79/80 percent, well beyond what they thought. So I know today we’ll do it but it’s going to happen with collaboration.”

View our interview with Turner below.



Participating in the census is a civic duty that is as equally necessary as voting said Turner. It’s a critical message that has to override the general government mistrust some residents might feel towards the program.


“We have to get people to understand and help them understand that, yes, the system may be stacked against you. Yes, the system may not be equal or equitable but this census is very important because this is the way that the federal government understands how much money a community needs.”


January 24, 2020, the City of Flint launched its Mayoral Complete Count Committee in partnership with the Community Foundation of Greater Flint. In collaboration with the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Ruth Mott Foundation, and the Michigan Nonprofit Association, over $300,000 were distributed to smaller nonprofits throughout Genesee County for census outreach.


Related story: Flint organizations work to ensure residents are counted in 2020 census


“I must say this. I think that’s a godsend because in my experience with the Census Bureau (in 2010) we didn’t have this. I wish I had this when I was working for the Census Bureau in 2010.” It's been smoother having so many partners at the table at once.


Turner said that this sort of collaboration was unavoidable, compared to the 2010 census operations that were backed by more federal funding. Despite not having immediate access to outreach partners, there was no limit to “census swag.”


“We had bookbags. We had paper clip boxers. We had stationary, you name it, we had it. You don’t see that this time.”


He remembers census tents set up across the city. It was all backed by the federal government and that just isn’t the case right now under the current administration said Turner.


So, running a Flint census operation during a pandemic has taken tremendous collaboration and a forgiving timeline.


“We see about a two-month push back to give people a sense of return to normalcy where we can send our census-takers out and hopefully by that time, it will be safe,” said Turner.


The self-response phase of the census that started March 12 has been extended to Oct. 31. E-response and paper enumerations, which began April 2 will be extended to Sept. 3. A majority of census programming will be extended into the Fall, including door-to-door visits by census-takers.


“I know Flint’s response rate is only 40 percent...but I believe it’s going to come up and I believe once we meet those goals we should celebrate our success...we’re moving from always being victimized to celebrating our successes and this is going to be a success.”


In Turner's perspective, the pandemic won’t last forever, and it’s good to know that a quick civic duty can bring a decade of growth to programs meant to support community development.


For questions or more information on the Mayoral Complete Count Committee contact Anthony Turner at [email protected] or for more information on the 2020 census, visit the government website at 2020census.gov.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Xandr Brown.