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Hobby School interns educate Houston about 2020 census amid coronavirus

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the deadline for people to be counted in the census has been extended to mid-August. | Jiselle Santos/The Cougar

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the deadline for people to be counted in the census has been extended to mid-August. | Jiselle Santos/The Cougar

For over 200 years, the U.S. Census Bureau has surveyed the nation to count every living person, but this year’s plans have been rattled due to the coronavirus pandemic forcing social distancing.

For some students in the Civic Houston Internship Program, the new coronavirus has almost entirely changed their job to educate others at UH and around Houston about the census’ importance. However, they’re still motivated to inform others about the census however they can.

“I do think it’s one of my passions to make sure everyone does complete the census because it is very important that everyone’s counted,” said Civic Houston Internship Program recipient and public health and political science junior Maya Ali. “The census is big for representation, Congress and redistricting. It’s how underserved communities receive a lot of resources, and it’s very important for the overall well-being of a community.”  

The program is under the Hobby School of Public Affairs, and it gives UH students the opportunity to have government internships. For some internships, there is a volunteer hour requirement for census education.

Through the program, Ali is an intern with the Center for Civic and Public Policy Improvement and helps address issues that impact Houston such as affordable housing, education, health care and civil and human rights.

Ali finished half of her volunteer hours before the coronavirus pandemic began affecting her internship and academics. Her duties have switched to getting information to the public via technology or social media. She sends tweets about the impact of the census, creates fliers for use across the Hobby School’s social media and makes newsletters about the census.

The switch to a primarily virtual approach for census education has some drawbacks, Ali said. Because some Americans might not have access to the Internet or aren’t up to date with social media, it may be difficult to get helpful information to them.

“It’s definitely a privilege to have access to Wi-Fi, a working laptop and things like that, so if you want to reach every single American it’s going to take more than just doing things online,” Ali said. “But given our circumstances, it’s kind of all that we can think of right now.”

Anthropology senior Kayla Vazquez has an internship through the Civic Houston Internship Program with state Rep. Jon Rosenthal. She also works with Mi Familia Vota, a national civic engagement organization that promotes social and economic justice through citizenship workshops, voter registration and voter participation.

For getting information about the census out there, Vazquez helped host booths at local health fairs, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s Rodeo Run and more.

After concerns about the coronavirus began to escalate, Vazquez’s duty to inform others about the census switched to sending informational census texts to the contacts her and her team collected at the health fairs and rodeo run.

Though Vazquez said the negative side to operating virtually is they aren’t reaching as many new people, she’s grateful they can focus on providing attention and information to those who need it.

The census affects representation in Congress and state and local government, funding for various federal projects and if the census overlooks people living in a community its residents will face economic and political disadvantages, according to the American Library Association.

In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the deadline for people to be counted in the census has been extended to mid-August.

“I really hope that there’s more awareness (for the census) and more reach out to the community in different ways, which can be hard especially during these times,” Vazquez said. “I’m glad that the time got extended to fill out the census, which will help a lot.”

For more of The Cougar’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

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