Census ramps up efforts to boost count among military families

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Parts of Fort Bliss have lowest participation rates in county; officials point to high mobility in military and housing units that might be vacant

A soldier fills out the 2020 census questionnaire. (photo courtesy U.S. Army)

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — The Census Bureau has enlisted the help of nonprofits and other partners to boost the response rate among soldiers and military families in Fort Bliss, Texas.

The Army post in Northeast El Paso so far shows a much lower response rate than the county’s 61.9% average, according to census data and some local officials.

“I talked to Fort Bliss leadership […] It’s important that we get our soldiers and our families counted, a lot of the federal financing that led to Fort Bliss’ (success) depend on census figures. We want every person counted,” County Commissioner David Stout said during Monday’s El Paso County Commissioners Court meeting.

Gate soldiers inspect all vehicles entering Fort Bliss for current post-registration stickers and Department of Defense and military ID cards on Sept. 17, 2001, in Texas. (Photo by Bobbie DeHerrera/Getty Images)

The 2020census.gov website shows three census tracts encompass Fort Bliss: 101.02, 101.03 and special district 9800. The response rate in 101.02 is the second-lowest in the county, at 18.9%, while 101.03 is doing slightly better, at 28.9%. The special district is self-reported by the post.

Paulina Lopez, a partnership specialist for the census, said Fort Bliss presents a special challenge because it includes a mobile population, industrial areas and contractor housing. Some that housing might be vacant and some military families may have moved off the post. “Housing is (inexpensive) in El Paso. We have military families living in the Northeast, the East Side, all over the county,” Lopez said.

She said census workers last Friday started going door-to-door to addresses from which the agency has had no response.

“We have been collaborating with (nonprofit) agencies that serve military families — the YMCA, the school districts, faith-based communities, the school districts and local government. We want to make sure the military families are counted and included in the 2020 census,” Lopez said.

The outreach also includes having census workers at the car lines in food banks with iPads and smartphones at the ready to assist military families on filling the census, she said.

Diana Miller, development manager for the Armed Services YMCA of El Paso, has been participating in outreach events such as a recent back-to-school backpacks and supplies drive.

She concurs that the mobility of military families and other factors contribute to the slow census response rate.

“Some of them just came to El Paso. It takes time to settle down when you move from another state or another country,” she said, referring to transfers from overseas bases and to natives of Puerto Rico who join the military.

Miller has also taken part in web-based outreach initiatives, such as Facebook Live, to explain the importance of the census to military families and encourage them to participate.

“We try to make them understand that federal resources are tied to the count. Maybe they will only be here for three years, but those resources will benefit those that come after them,” Miller said.

The Census’ door-to-door effort goes on through Sept. 30, and local officials are still hiring temporary workers to find people who have not responded. For information, visit www.2020census.gov/jobs

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