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Cook County’s new website shows nearly half of census funds spent on advertising, marketing
The uptick in spending in that category jumped since the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Census by the Numbers website unveiled Wednesday.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020
Chicago Sun-Times
by Manny Ramos

A new Cook County website shows that nearly half of the $670,000 in census outreach money spent so far this year has gone toward advertising and marketing materials.

The uptick in spending in those categories jumped since the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Census by the Numbers website unveiled Wednesday, designed to maintain transparency on how the nearly $2 million allocated for the county’s 2020 census efforts is spent.

Of the money spent so far, $314,376 went toward advertising and marketing materials.

In the first two months of the year, $45,147 was spent on event planning and $15,663 was spent on advertising. But by March — when the state’s initial stay-at-home order was issued — event spending declined and advertising increased.

Event spending dropped to $11,408 in March, then fell to $9,632 in April and by May it was $7,212. Only $3,074 — a 92% drop since February — was used for events in June.

During those same four months, $75,939 was spent just on advertising. Over the first six months of the year, $222,773 was spent on marketing materials.

Almost 100 suburban government, community groups, churches and cultural centers received portions of $2 million money to target specific areas deemed “hard-to-count” populations for the census count.

“We want to be sure everyone completes their census form and we get an accurate count in all of our communities,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said. “While our digital efforts are enhanced, we recognize the importance of maintaining community-level visibility.”

Advertising spending for lawn signs, newspaper inserts and handing out flyers at food pantries and personal protective equipment distribution sites continue to keep that visibility high, Preckwinkle said.

But Preckwinkle also acknowledged the county’s census response rate is not where it needs to be.

The county’s 61.4% response rate as of June 30 was still under the overall 2010 response rate of 66.1%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Cook County Commissioner Alma Anaya’s district, which represents one of the largest communities with Latinos, immigrants and COVID-19 cases, has struggled to respond to the census.

“This means that our families, our community, is not thinking about a questionnaire,” Anaya said. “They are thinking about essential things like food, housing, and health care at this moment.”

Anaya, who is the vice chair of the Cook County Complete Count Census Commission, stressed that residents should try to take five minutes to fill out the census forms since it

helps decide how communities are federally funded for the next decade.

“We are seeing now in a time of pandemic the importance of health care, the importance of our education system to have all the resources for our community,” Anaya said. “That is why we want to make sure everyone is counted.”

The last day to fill out the census has been pushed back to Oct. 31 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Census takers will start knocking on doors of those who have not responded on August 11.

Residents can fill out the census at, call 844-330-2020 or by mail.

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South and West sides.

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