HOUSTON — When the main worries are paying rent, keeping healthy and providing food for the family, participating in the 2020 census may not be a high priority for some Texas Catholics, but church officials say they are working hard to encourage their participation.
Chris Rubio, director of social services at St. Mary Magdalene Catholic Church in Humble, and other volunteers who have helped organize weekly food distributions over the past several months during the pandemic, are now also helping with the U.S. Census Bureau to reach thousands who might have gone uncounted.
The Metropolitan Organization, a community nonprofit group, has worked with local pastors and other ministers to train people in census participation. The census, which counts the U.S. population every 10 years, impacts $800 billion in funding, including Children’s Health Insurance Program, Medicaid and Medicare, school grants and many other programs.
Maria Lopez, a parishioner at Assumption Catholic Church in Houston, received census training to reassure fellow parishioners that the census would not ask questions about citizenship.
The weekend that most churches were going to participate in the census coincided with a time when many of the churches did not have services at church because of the coronavirus, she said.
“So I’ve been trying to call other parishioners and help them by phone,” Lopez said.
But even a friendly voice over the phone that many parishioners may know by her work with the church bazaar and other ministries for 15 years doesn’t make it easy, she said.
“The people still have a lot of fear, especially those who are undocumented,” Lopez said. “The only way they will do the census is one-to-one with someone they trust.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the deadline to respond to the census has been extended to Oct. 31.
When U.S. Census Bureau workers come knocking on doors in August to households that haven’t responded, “the residents just won’t open the door,” Lopez said.
Overall in Texas, responses continue to run behind the national average, ranked 41st among states for its response rate, according to the Texas Demographic Center. The state, at a 55.5 percent response rate, is now more than five percentage points behind the national average of 60.8 percent, the center reported.
Of the 10 largest cities in the country, Houston ranked seventh place with a self-response rate of 47.3 percent. Within the state, Houston had the lowest self-response rate out of the other large cities. Dallas ranked sixth with 48.6 percent reporting. San Antonio came in fourth by a rather significant margin, with 53 percent reporting.
Directors of ministries with the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston have met with census representatives to help with response rates.
“We have used social media, email and other ways to encourage people to register and participate in the census,” said Lazaro Contreras, director of the Office of Hispanic Ministry.
As people slowly return to church, pastors are announcing the importance of the census at Masses as well, he said.
Somascan Father Italo Dell’Oro, archdiocesan director of clergy formation, urged parishioners in a video in Spanish to participate in the census. “Let’s make sure we all count!” he said.
Zuniga writes for the Texas Catholic Herald, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.