Help Centers for Census—Not so helpful

About 300 Questionnaire Assistance Centers (QAC) and “Be Counted” sites were supposed to open across Minnesota on March 19. “We haven’t heard anything negative,” said Census Bureau Public Information officer Michael Gregorio. “We take that as a good thing.”Although these sites are there to help people pick up and fill out the census form, many sites in Minnesota have not opened yet or have limited hours – which is not such a good thing. I called six different sites on March 23 and four of them were unable to tell me when census staff would be there.  This is five days after the sites were set to open.  Looking for Question Assistance CentersFirst Call:  Intermediate District 287 – South Education Center – RichfieldNo answer…probably a fluke.Second Call:  Oxboro Library – BloomingtonThe woman I spoke to said, “I’m waitin’ for someone to tell me.” When I asked about the QAC hours.  She didn’t sound very happy to be without this information.Third Call:  Edina Community CenterI was told that census staff was supposed to be there at 6 p.m. that evening.  However, no one had shown up the day before as scheduled.  I offered to call back after 6 p.m. to check again and was discouraged because  the community center would be closed and the census staff would have to set up in the entry way.  What?  The entry way?  So much for telling people to call their local site for hours. Fourth Call:  Edina Library – Hennepin County LibraryI actually got some scheduled times!  Next time would be March 24, from 3-6 p.m.  Not a lot of time for people to come after the work day.Fifth Call:  Horn Towers – Uptown areaThe man I spoke with had no idea what the schedule was and referred me to call someone in charge of the census locally.Sixth Call:  City of Minneapolis at City Hall – Downtown MinneapolisI thought this one had to be it.  It’s at Minneapolis City Hall for goodness sake.  The woman told me she wasn’t sure when the site would open.  She thought sometime next week.  Sunk again.Here’s the problem:These sites opened across the country and speaking about them generally, according to Gregorio, “everything seems to be running fine.”However, after multiple phone calls to sites in my area, I discovered that it would be difficult to visit one.It was crucial that I called the sites in advance.  Many locations are not open yet and in at least one case, census staff didn’t show up for a scheduled time.  I understand that the census is a huge and important undertaking, but how can people get help if there is no one there?Some of these sites also have inadequate hours.  Sites are not necessarily open every day and have short time blocks of operation, which doesn’t allow the people much flexibility.It’s also important to know that these sites are “in flux,” according to Barbara Ronningen, of the State Demographer’s Office.”The Census Bureau will keep the ones open that have high traffic,” Ronningen said.  “If not, they may close some and open others.”The Bureau is still hiring people across the country for any number of positions and according to a press release from the City of Minneapolis, looking to hire about 4,000 more people for peak times in Minnesota.So, what are these sites?The main purpose of the QAC is to assist people in the completion of the census forms and to offer language assistance.  Paid Census Bureau staff at the centers will be able to answer commonly asked questions, provide blank forms and offer 59 different language guides, including Braille and large print questionnaires, according to Census Bureau information.”People with disabilities; people who can’t see well; people with limited English…these sites are there to help,” Ronningen said.Be Counted sites are there to ensure all people have access to the census form.  If a person feels they were excluded on their household’s form, if they did not receive a form or if they were without housing on April 1, these centers are available.According to Ronningen, the main difference between the two sites is that the QAC has a staff to help with filling out the form and, depending on the area, will have bilingual staff on site to help those with language barriers.  The Be Counted sites are just for picking up forms.The centers are also another way to reach out to the community concerns about the census.Ronningen said incorrect addresses have been an issue for some residents.  The Census Bureau contracted a company to create the mailing list and in some cases the suburbs adjacent to cities get the name of that city in their address field.  For example, an address in Golden Valley, Minn. Continue Reading

Celebrating Mexican centennials – in Minnesota

“It’s going to be a very wonderful year for us to celebrate the Bicentennial of Independence and the Centennial of the Revolution,” said Ana Luisa Fajer, Mexican Consul in St. Paul. “We will showcase a modern Mexico and a mother Mexico.” 
This year marks two important milestones in the history of our southern neighbor.  Two hundred years after the Mexican War of Independence and 100 years after the Mexican Revolution, the consulate is launching a new website and a series of cultural events, planned by the consulate’s bicentennial committee, to celebrate these historic battles and connect all Minnesotans – Latino or not – with traditional and modern Mexico. According to Fajer, March 26 will kick off the bicentennial committee’s year of events to commemorate the beginnings of these famous uprisings.  The new website and cultural events will be resources for the community to connect with Mexico’s history on the local level.  

What were the War of Independence and the Mexican Revolution? Continue Reading

Immigrant driver’s license bill moves on to March 16 hearing

Members of the Transportation and Transit Policy and Oversight Division of the Minnesota House of Representatives met March 10 to hear testimony on a bill that would change Minnesota drivers license requirements. House Bill 1718, presented by co-author Rep. Karen Clark, would modify application procedures and requirements for individuals, allowing even undocumented residents to qualify for a license. 

Next hearing: Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, March 16 at 12:30 p.m. in Room 15. If approved will then go to the House Transportation and Finance Committee. 
According to Patricia McCormack, Director of the Driver and Vehicle Services division of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, an individual is required to have “legal presence” in the state to qualify for a license.  Immigration documents, a valid driver’s license or a certified United States birth certificate are among the documents used by the state to authenticate a person’s identity.  According to McCormack, identification cards and documents from foreign governments are not accepted forms of ID because all countries have different requirements. “A lot of these identification cards are easy to replicate and they may not have security features, so we cannot authenticate that individual,” she said. Under the provisions of the new bill, an ID from the individual’s home country and proof of residency, such as a Minnesota tax document, would be accepted to prove one’s identity.  Some legislators were concerned about immigration issues. Continue Reading