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LWB Census Outreach & COVID-19 Response in Baltimore
Why ConnectEd Technology Kits in Baltimore?
By the summer of 2019, LWB had successfully launched four Wash and Learn Initiative (WALI) laundromat sites in Baltimore City, located in the neighborhoods of Patterson Park, Belair-Edison, Irvington, and Fallstaff. By October, however, LWB recognized the critical nature of another pressing need in Baltimore: census outreach. With a shocking rate of 30.5% of Baltimore households lacking access to broadband connection, the online 2020 Census proved a formidable challenge.
Seeing as the census comes around only once every 10 years, it is critical for the census to be completed in a manner that accurately represents how the city and its communities have evolved. Unfortunately, certain communities are at risk of not completing the census: namely racial and ethnic minorities and those with low internet proficiency. Recognizing this problem, Baltimore City has been working on census outreach to provide funds to community groups and nonprofit organizations in the area that are committed to improving census completion rates in areas with typically low completion percentages. For Baltimore City to understand the support and funding needs of its citizens, the City first needed to ensure its residents accurately filled out the census.
So why is completing the census so important, especially for traditionally underserved and underrepresented communities?
The census is a critical opportunity for cities and neighborhoods to receive accurate funding from the government, an appropriate redivision of house/senate seats, and accurate data for researchers. As an example of the importance of the census: each individual loses $18,000 in government funding for every person not counted in the Census. Therefore, it is imperative that the Census be an accurate representation of each community.
It is no coincidence that the same groups that are historically undercounted are also those most in need of local and national social services. With a low response rate, these communities remain consistently stripped of the support and funds they need.
So, LWB got to work!
Prompted by the invitation of the Baltimore Department of Planning to apply for funding, LWB submitted a grant to host a Free Laundry/Census Kick Off Day at Hipp laundromat, one of our Baltimore Wash and Learn Initiative (WALI) laundromats. However, as COVID-19 began to spread and stay-at-home orders kicked in, our approach to improving census completion rates in Baltimore City called for reevaluation.
While COVID-19 halted our initial plan of census outreach in the laundromat, the need to digitally connect Baltimore residents in order for them to complete the census increased exponentially. Previously, census outreach was targeted towards providing opportunities for folks to access free public computers and/or wi-fi to complete the census. However, with the Coronavirus outbreak, LWB was faced with this next question: how can we ensure that individuals and families in Baltimore remain connected to the resources they need in order to complete the census while respecting necessary sanitary measures as COVID-19 spreads?
So, LWB approached the Census Group to resubmit a grant to provide internet and device access directly to residents. Motivated by a desire to directly connect people with the resources they need most, we designed the ConnectEd Technology Kits — backpacks equipped with a laptop, mobile hotspot, one year of internet connection, and census resource tools, guidelines, and timelines.
Thanks to the census grant, LWB was able to provide the first round of kits and census materials, dispel misinformation, and spread the word about the importance of the census. Through the census grant, we distributed 15 kits (replete with internet connection, a digital device, and census resources!)!
Progression of ConnectEd Kit Program
The continued advancement of the ConnectEd Kit Program would not have been possible without the support of our funders in Baltimore. With the support of Truist Financial Corporation, we were able to purchase refurbished Dell Chromebooks, helping us design and deliver an additional 38 ConnectEd Tech Kits.
Thanks to Amerigroup’s sponsorship of 200 backpacks for the ConnectEd Kits as well as 20 Refurbished HP ProBooks, we were able to successfully deliver an additional 20 ConnectEd Tech Kits. We are so grateful for their support!
Our work would also not be possible without the support of the Baltimore City Department of Planning/Maryland Philanthropy Network. Through their support, we were able to provide 15 kits and 20 Refurbished Dell laptops to families that lacked critical access to the digital devices. Thanks to a partnership with the City, kits now also include translated materials that reach Baltimore’s Spanish speaking population.
Finally, thanks to the support of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, we aim to successfully provide an additional 20 ConnectEd Tech Kits to families who lack at-home digital devices.
So far, LWB has distributed 67 ConnectED Kits in over 10 neighborhoods in Baltimore City, specifically targeting neighborhoods that are not online. Communities like Montclare and East Baltimore still have a low response rate to the census; however, every family and individual we connect to the internet is more likely to complete the census and receive the funding and support their neighborhood needs.