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What’s New In Civic Tech: The 2020 U.S. Census Data Is Here

Plus, Baltimore makes concentrated effort to distribute computers with free Internet service to residents; Bloomington, Ind., invites applicants for second year of digital equity grants; and more.

A webpage showing "United States Census" at the top.
One of the most significant days for civic technologists in any decade has arrived — the release of the U.S. Census data.

Collected every 10 years via the largest peacetime mobilization of the U.S. government, the Census’ data seeks to provide the clearest picture of who lives where in this country. The headlining functions of this data are determining political representation and funding for communities.

More relevant to civic technologists, however, is that this information is used by agencies at all levels of government to better serve their communities. It is also used by community groups, nonprofit organizations and even companies in the private sector for decisions such as where to open new businesses.

It is, simply put, a huge deal. And now it has arrived.

One key finding — as reported by The New York Timesis that the United States has grown more diverse over the past 10 years, with the 2020 Census data showing large increases for populations of people that identify as Asian, Hispanic or more than one race. Another broad finding at the national level was that population growth here is slowing, with a majority — 52 percent, to be exact — of counties in the United States reporting that they are losing population.

That’s enough summary, though. The U.S. Census Bureau has also released tools aimed at making it easier for civic technologists to read its data, subsequently gleaning new information about the areas in which they have interest. The Census Bureau has released a number of tools — including data visualizations, America Counts stories and videos — all of which are aimed at making the data easier to understand, especially as it pertains to specific communities across the country. Those tools and more can be found on the Census Bureau’s website. (Zack Quaintance)


A new program in Baltimore is working to close the digital divide by getting free computers for residents as well as free service for the Internet.

Through the Federal Emergency Broadband Benefit program, eligible residents in the city will be able to receive free Internet service.

In addition, hundreds of free refurbished computers were distributed by PCs for People. This follows a 2020 Memorandum of Understanding between the city and PCs for People that coordinates an effort for retired electronic equipment from city agencies to be donated rather than discarded. (Julia Edinger)


Bloomington, Ind., has invited nonprofit groups to apply for funding through its Digital Equity Grants program.

Applicants’ proposals will be accepted through Sept. 10, and $50,000 in funds are available for nonprofits based in the city. These grants will be awarded in October 2021, marking an increase from the $35,000 that was available in 2020.

The funds are intended to help the city address digital equity. The program was initiated in 2020 through Mayor John Hamilton’s Recover Forward initiative.

Proposals should address projects that help increase access to broadband or computing devices, increase digital skills, reduce the digital divide, or otherwise align with the city’s Digital Equity Strategic Plan that was developed last year.

The city will host a public session on Aug. 24 to answer questions via Zoom.

More information on the program and how to apply can be found on the city’s website. (Julia Edinger)


Houston has launched a website that details the city’s plans for using the funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

As Mayor Sylvester Turner said in the announcement, the website to track these funds is a way to build trust with constituents through transparency.

Across two years, the city will receive over $600 million in Local Fiscal Recovery Funds.

A priority for the ARPA funds is to protect salaries of the city’s first responders who have worked throughout the pandemic. This includes police officers, firefighters and health workers.

The website also notes that the ARPA funding will support rental relief programs and the Houston Airport System. (Julia Edinger)
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for <i>Government Technology</i>. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.