Thin Hawaii budget inspires creative census promotions


POSTED: Sunday, October 11, 2009

By talking to religious leaders, creating ads in public schools and handing out brochures, Hawaii is trying to stretch its thin budget to encourage participation in next year's census.

Hawaii lacks cash for extravagant census marketing efforts promoted in some other states, so state officials and community organizations are finding more creative ways to boost its once-a-decade count that determines how much federal cash the islands receive.

Hawaii had one of the lowest response rates to the last census, at 60 percent, the same as Louisiana and Vermont. The national average was 67 percent.

Persuading ministers to speak to their congregations about the census helps reach hard-to-count populations of immigrants, the homeless and the poor, said Faye Untalan, a U.S. Census partnership specialist doing outreach to Pacific Islander communities.

“;Many of them will listen to their minister before they will listen to their mayor,”; she said.

Additional ways of getting the message out without spending much money include stuffing census brochures in existing government mailings, writing blurbs in newsletters and hanging posters in government buildings.

“;Given our limited resources, we had to focus our energies on where we could do the most,”; said Pearl Imada Iboshi, the head of Hawaii's Complete Count Committee and the state's chief economist.

State efforts will complement federally funded campaigns such as promotional balloons, coffee mugs, flying discs, DVDs and canvas shopping bags. These items and informational pamphlets are being handed out at U.S. Census booths set up at public events across the state.

Organizers are also planning an episode for a local TV comedy show that aims to educate people about the census. Separately, some public school students are putting together their own public service announcements.

“;We want to be sure we get that message out for everyone so they understand what's in it for them,”; said Marilyn Yoza, a U.S. Census partnership specialist coordinating efforts at the Honolulu census office.

Hawaii received more than $1,200 per person in census-based federal money in 2007, which paid for a wide range of government services such as roads, homeless shelters, public housing, health care and education. The more people are counted, the more money Hawaii will receive.

Among native Hawaiians, which make up a disproportionate share of the homeless, a better response to the census would bring more funding for beds and health services, said Momi Fernandez, director of Papa Ola Lokahi, the Hawaiian board of health.

“;All these services for these people are really stretched,”; she said. “;We need to count everyone. It's critical.”;

Census forms will be distributed next year.