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Charities Spend Millions On Census Outreach

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Charities Spend Millions On Census Outreach


Charities Spend Millions On Census Outreach

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Forms for the 2010 Census will be mailed out next week to almost every household in the nation. Charitable foundations and nonprofits are taking an unusually active role this year in promoting the census. They say the people they serve have the most to benefit from an accurate count, but they're also among the least likely to return the forms.

NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER: The nonprofit group Voto Latino has come up with some pretty cool ways to encourage Latinos to fill out their census forms, like a new mobile phone app for L.A. County. You download it, learn about the census and take a quiz, then you get to download five songs for free, such as...

(Soundbite of song, "Across the Waters")

PITBULL (Singer): (Singing) It all started with one man with one vision, one...

FESSLER: ..."Across the Waters" by Pitbull. The more you forward the link, the more likely you'll be one of a thousand people invited to a free concert by a top recording artist.

Ms. MARIA TERESA KUMAR (Executive Director, Voto Latino): The reason we're starting to use this mobile online piece of it is that we found that 25 percent of iPhone users are of Latino decent.

FESSLER: And most of them are young, says Voto Latino's executive director Maria Teresa Kumar. She says young Latinos hold a lot of sway over their elders and hopefully can convince them it's okay to fill out the census form, that there are no questions about worrisome issues such as immigration status.

Ms. KUMAR: And so we're using this opportunity to again say the message is that the census is safe. It's something that you should be doing for your political representation. But also, it involves money.

FESSLER: Hundreds of billions of dollars in federal aid for things like education, highways and transit - it's all based on census numbers. Voto Latino is working with DJs and bloggers around the country and will be text messaging thousands of Latinos to get out the word.

And who's paying for all this?

Ms. KUMAR: Open Society Institute, the Ford Foundation, California Community Foundation, Knight Foundation and the California Endowment Foundation and Silicon Valley Foundation.

FESSLER: And there's even more. The Hagedorn Foundation in New York is giving Voto Latino and other nonprofits money for census outreach on Long Island. And Voto Latino's one of two dozen groups splitting more than a million dollars as part of the Illinois Count Me In campaign. It's funded by 10 groups, including the Joyce Foundation. Ellen Alberding is president.

Ms. ELLEN ALBERDING (President, Joyce Foundation): The Joyce Foundation knew the upcoming census was going to have a huge impact on the populations of folks that we work with, and that many of our colleagues in philanthropy work with and care a lot about.

FESSLER: Like those with low incomes. The Illinois Count Me In campaign is funding groups such as one that gives free tax help to the poor that it hopes can reach more people than the government can.

Mr. KYLE CALDWELL (President and CEO, Michigan Nonprofit Association): Let's just take one hard-to-count population, the homeless.

FESSLER: Kyle Caldwell is president and CEO of the Michigan Nonprofit Association.

Mr. CALDWELL: You can't just hire a census worker three months before the census begins and cast them out into the streets and find homeless people. You have to go to people and organizations that have constant interaction with the homeless, and that is charities and nonprofits.

FESSLER: So his group has given $200,000 in grants to local charities to help with the count. Caldwell says it's especially important in Michigan, which has been hit hard by the bad economy and needs all the federal aid it can get.

He says the state's high foreclosure rate has also made an accurate count more challenging because many families no longer live at the addresses where their census forms will be mailed.

Mr. CALDWELL: And so we have to find those folks who are some cases living with other family members or living in a temporary housing condition.

FESSLER: He says, in part, foundations and nonprofits are doing more to promote the census because state and local governments have less money to do it themselves. California, for example, spent $25 million on the 2000 Census. This year, it's spending $2 million.

Charities also say an accurate census helps them with their own work. They can get a better idea where the greatest needs are and how they might spend their money in the years ahead.

Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington.

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