HOUSTON — Houston and Harris County kicked off their joint outreach plan Friday to boost participation in the 2020 Census.

The Complete Count Committee, which includes 25 groups, met for the first time at United Way’s headquarters near downtown Houston.

It comes after months of work and around $4 million approved by the city and county toward one goal: working with community leaders to get an accurate count.

The U.S. Constitution requires a count of everyone in the country, regardless of their immigration status, once per decade.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Friday the region will lose around $1,500 for each person that doesn’t fill out the Census. He’s previously said a 10 percent undercount in Houston alone would cost the city $3.78 billion over 10 years.

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Community leaders say there’s historically been mistrust toward the survey among immigrants and refugees. 

However, renters, younger people, and the homeless are also traditionally tough to count, and people displaced by Harvey will present an additional challenge in 2020.

“If I were to interview you today, I would say, ‘Please list all of the people who are living and staying in this household,” said Cathy L. Lacy, U.S. Census Bureau Regional Director. “What is their sex, their date of birth, their age, their ethnicity, their relation to one another, and do they own or rent their home, and what’s your phone number, just in case? That’s it: 10 questions, 10 minutes, 60 seconds for the next 10 years.”

A citizenship question will no longer be on the 2020 Census after President Donald Trump recently backed off on his push to add one.

“It does make my job a little bit easier,” Lacy said, adding that many people still hadn’t heard the news.

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Community advocates say many non-citizens or people living with them were scared about answering the question, a fear that for many still hadn’t gone away.

“It’s not like you say ‘Fill out the Census’, then stop,” Turner said. “We have to win people’s trust. You have to win their trust. So, we understand the fear. We understand the noise that’s out there, and now we’re asking the people to get past the noise.”

Mi Familia Vota, a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Census citizenship question, is one group reaching out to immigrant families.

“They will trust that we will not be asking them something that will put them in harm’s way,” said Carlos Duarte, Texas State Director of Mi Familia Vota.

Graci Garces, Director of Engagement for nonprofit Baker Ripley, says her staff will help create awareness in all of their classes and programs.

“We want them to understand, they shouldn’t be fearful, they should be excited,” Garces said. “For us it’s really using that trust that we’ve been able to establish to break through that fear that exists in a lot of our neighborhoods and communities across Houston.”

Mayor Turner sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking for the state to spend money to boost outreach but said Friday he had not heard back.

Lacy said any breach of respondents’ information means prison time and a $250,000 fine. She added that she’s not even allowed to see her own Census form.

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