MEC's Sandra Turner-Handy: Detroit census participation is critical

Detroit will launch a citywide event this weekend to encourage participation in the 2020 census. Michigan Environmental Council’s engagement director said the effort comes at a time when federal funding stemming from it is needed most.

“Now more than ever we need to fill out our census forms,” said MEC’s Sandra Turner-Handy. “We have families in distress. The federal dollars we get from each family counted can go a long way in helping them and the Detroit community at large, especially as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and a recession.”

Turner-Handy joined Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan Friday afternoon at a press conference for the census event, which kicks off at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 30 in the parking lot of Martin Luther King High School, 3200 E. Lafayette Blvd. Volunteers can drive up to receive yard signs, T-shirts and other materials to promote participation. The city will also host a competition to see which neighborhood can achieve the highest census response rate and a digital arts festival.

In 2017, nearly $48.7 million was distributed in Michigan to more than 300 federal programs, from Medicaid to low-income tax credits to community development, according to George Washington University. Detroit leaders say that equates to about $5,000 per census form for their city’s residents.

Each census filled means more federal funding for critical assistance and support programs, said Turner-Handy, who has encouraged census participation as president of the Denby Neighborhood Alliance, president of community relations for Detroit’s ninth precinct and census captain of district four, which she calls home.

“The pandemic and recession makes thinking about and filling out the census difficult for many residents,” she said. “That is why we’re trying to make the process as easy as can be.” 

Detroit is among the cities hit hardest by COVID-19. As of early afternoon Friday, the city of 675,000 had 10,164 recorded cases and 1,236 recorded deaths. Turner-Handy attributes the rate to a poor health care system and environmental pollution.

Detroiters can spend 10 minutes filling out the census by going to, calling (844) 330-2020 toll-free or completing a paper form mailed to all Detroit addresses.