Alexandria in Action with Heather Peeler: Take a stand for Alexandria

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Heather Peeler
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“So often we forget that the people we are serving alongside are people with gifts to give and they have capacity for service too.” This beautiful quote was recently shared by Marissa Salgado, elementary programs director at Casa Chirilagua, on ACT for Alexandria’s Facebook page.

My colleague Hannah Lee has spent the past few months interviewing staff members at Alexandria nonprofits and sharing the highlights. Marissa’s quote really resonates because it speaks to the incredible diversity of the city and the spirt of community and collective action that makes Alexandria a special place.

One year from now, on April 1, 2020, all Alexandrians will be called upon to take a stand for our community and be counted as part of the 2020 Census. Mandated by the U.S. Constitution, every ten years our country counts every resident. Census data is used to determine the number of seats in the House of Representatives and is also used to distribute billions of federal dollars to local communities.

According to Voices for Virginia’s Children, every year more than $10 billion is allocated to Virginia based on census data. It is also used by local governments and business for planning and decision making.

Despite the importance, the decision to participate in the 2020 Census is not an easy one for all Alexandrians. The Trump Administration has proposed adding a citizenship question which experts fear will suppress participation by foreign-born residents who are already undercounted.

Virginia joined 17 states in a lawsuit to remove the citizenship question from the census form out of concern that it will reduce the accuracy of the census count. Although the Census Bureau is prohibited from sharing data at the individual level, many people worry that census information will be used by federal agencies to target vulnerable communities that are already feeling stressed and fearful of the government.

The citizenship question is only one of many challenges facing the 2020 Census. The Census Bureau has insufficient funding at levels lower than 2010. And, it is moving from a paper form to online responses, raising concerns around cybersecurity and the digital divide.

Failure to count all Alexandrians is a threat to representational democracy and the values that are core to our country. An undercount means fewer dollars for schools, housing vouchers and many critical federal programs that our community members depend upon. The dollars add up quickly. On average each person counted represents about $2,000 in federal dollars per year for ten years. An undercount of even 1 to 2 percent means tens of millions of dollars in lost federal funding for our community.

We can all play a role in making sure 100 percent of Alexandrians are counted. For example, you can do your part to learn more about it and talk about the importance of participating in the 2020 Census with your friends and neighbors.

Connect with your congregation and other community organizations to see how you can partner with them to help spread the word. Support the work of Alexandria’s Complete Count Committee. Or reach out to me (heather.peeler@actforalexandria.org) or my ACT colleagues at 703-739-7778 if you’re not sure where to get started.

Helping to ensure that all of our neighbors are included in the 2020 Census is a gift we can all give to the community we love.

The writer is president and CEO of ACT for Alexandria.

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