Gisele Fetterman opens flowers at Hollander's in Braddock, Pa. Hollander's is a co-working space and business incubator for minority, female entrepreneurs from Braddock and surrounding Mon Valley communities on Sept. 19, 2019.
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As a girl and knowing she was undocumented, Gisele Fetterman, Pennnsylvania’s second lady, recalls asking her mother why she bothered to fill out a census form every 10 years.
“Does it apply to us? Will it matter?” she said she asked her mom.
Her mom told her, “it’ll help your neighbors. Even if it doesn’t necessarily maybe help us, it’ll help our neighbors.”
Since then, Fetterman, wife of Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, has come to learn participating in the census helps everybody. She plan to go on a statewide tour over the next three months to get that message out.
“I’m really honored to be a part of this and looking forward to meeting so many of you on the road and talking about how great the census is,” Fetterman said at a Capitol news conference on Monday. “How we should be doing it. How all the cool kids are doing it. And how you should all do it.”
Jan Murphy / PennLive
Pennsylvania’s second lady Gisele Fetterman (at podium) announces at a Capitol news conference her upcoming statewide tour to try to get hard-to-reach populations to participate in the 2020 U.S. census.
Fetterman said she has dedicated her career to working with under-represented people. They often are the ones who don’t get counted in the census but are affected by an undercount since Pennsylvania’s allotment of federal funding as well as the size of its congressional delegation relies on the count.
Along with the second lady’s tour that will take her to all regions of the commonwealth to meet with hard-to-count populations, Gov. Tom Wolf has committed $4 million to raise awareness about the census and the importance it has for Pennsylvania.
Norman Bristol Colón, executive director of the governor’s Census 2020 Complete Count Commission, reminded the census is a one-shot deal. There’s no recounts. Once the population count is submitted to President Donald Trump at the end of the year, that’s considered the official population of Pennsylvania for the next 10 years and the state’s share of federal funding will be based on it.
To emphasize why accuracy matters, he said if one classroom of 35 students in each of the 500 school districts is missed, that’s $36 million a year the state would lose out on and $360 million over the decade.
“Every one in Pennsylvania is everyone’s business,” he said. “We must count everyone.”
Pennsylvania now receives $26.8 billion annually in federal funding for programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program, nutritional services for senior citizens, block grants for affordable housing, highway and bridge construction and repairs, special education, and federal direct student loans. Certain populations often get overlooked including children under 5 years of age, said Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller. But getting an accurate count of this population group is critical to the federal funding for early education and health services.
“These programs are very important for working families around Pennsylvania,” Miller said. “Without a complete and accurate count that includes all children in a household, Pennsylvania’s allocation may be adversely affected.”
Bristol Colón said the information reported on census forms is protected and can’t be used against an individual.
Residents can respond to the census form by mail, by phone, and for the first time, online. Forms should arrive in the mail by April 1. Households in remote areas or those that use a P.O. Box will be visited in person by a census taker. In April, census representatives will visit college campuses, senior centers and group homes to spread the word about completing a form. In May, census takers will begin paying visits to those who have not responded. More information about the census can be found at www.pa.gov/census.
PennLive and The Patriot-News are partners with PA Post.