Officially counting every single person in the United States is no easy task, even in a year not turned on its head by a global pandemic. This year, however, the U.S. Census Bureau, which orchestrates the nationwide effort every 10 years, has had to contend with the near-halt of business as usual across the country and the imposition of stay-at-home and social-distancing policies, all while still working to ensure that the 2020 census data is collected. Despite the challenges, census officials have adapted by extending deadlines for gathering the information from the end of June to the end of October, and will resume sending Colorado field staff into neighborhoods next week.
“They’re going to start doing fieldwork next week, going out and dropping census invitation packets at the front doors of households. In our case, for example, at the Telluride Post Office, that’s about 5,000 P.O. boxes, and all of those represent households where they’ll be visiting to drop off census material,” explained Paul Reich of Tri-County Health Network. “And the good news is, they’ll all be in personal protective equipment, practicing social-distancing protocols and dropping off the materials so that people can complete the census.”
The 2020 census consists of a short series of questions and can be completed via online questionnaire, telephone, mail or in-person by a census taker. While census workers will continue to send information and reminders to households that have not yet responded, and will eventually visit in-person to collect the household’s data, it is preferred that households complete the census online. Once a household completes the online questionnaire, the agency can then cross that address off their list and cease sending materials and field staff to the home to gather census data.
Reich noted that postcards were sent to all mailing addresses throughout the county last week, with information in English and Spanish.
“We hope that if you receive your mail at a P.O. box, you’ll be active and go onto the website at my2020census.gov and complete it,” Reich said.
For second homeowners, he added, it’s still important to fill out the census for that address, marking zero for the number of people who live there, so that the agency can stop sending mail and census takers to the address.
So beyond ensuring an accurate population count of Colorado communities, why all the effort to ensure every household responds to the census? Census data is used to determine the dollar amount of federal funds allocated to states and counties for social programs such as Medicaid, federal student loans, food stamps and grants for everything from wastewater treatment facility upgrades to public transportation. The more people that are counted, the more money that flows into communities for such services, and many others.
“The number for here in San Miguel County is that each person counted is worth about $2,300 in federal funds that make it to the county, so if you extrapolate that over 10 years, we’re looking at about $23,000 per person,” Reich said. In other words, for each person not counted in census data, the county loses approximately that much in funds that would go to education, health care, infrastructure and more.
As Census media specialist Laurie Cipriano noted in a recent news release, census data also determines a state’s representation in Congress, which is based on the state’s population.
“The 2020 Census is important because it will determine the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives, inform hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding, and provide data that will impact communities for the next decade,” she said.
Reich noted that with accurate 2020 census data, it’s likely that Colorado will gain an eighth seat in the House of Representatives, which equates greater representation at the national level for Colorado residents’ interests.
Both Cipriano and Reich emphasized that the personal information collected by the census is protected by law and cannot be shared with any other governmental agency, not even law enforcement or the president of the United States. The census also does not ask whether respondents or household members are U.S. citizens or legal residents.
“The information that people put in, regardless of immigration status, is private and cannot be shared with anyone,” said Reich. “That is the truth, and so we encourage everyone to fill out the census. Otherwise, the next go-around, we’ll be undercounted and therefore underpaid.”