by ALEXANDRA RETTER
What has happened since 2010? Maybe high school graduation finally arrived. Perhaps a first child was born. A house could have been bought at last. Life changes significantly over the course of a decade. So does the U.S. population. The Census, a count of the U.S. population that is completed every 10 years as required by the Constitution, impacts billions of dollars of federal funding that is received by communities, in addition to states’ representation at the national level. Amid Minnesota being at risk of losing a congressional seat, community members may respond to the Census today to make sure they are counted before Census takers begin going to households that have not responded in August.
In Winona County, 71.7 percent of households have responded to the Census, meaning more than 25 percent of households still have a chance to be counted.
The timeline for making sure everyone is counted in the Census shifted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Households may still respond to the Census. Households that have not yet responded to the Census received a postcard in July as a reminder that the Census may be completed online, over the phone or by mail.
On August 11, Census takers — who are hired from their local areas — will begin following up in-person with households that have not yet responded to the Census. Thousands of Census takers will go to those households, encourage them to complete the Census and answer any questions they have about responding and making sure they are counted. Assistance with responding to the Census may be given in languages other than English for households with a different primary language.
“It’s a big operation,” Deputy Regional Director for the Chicago Region of the U.S. Census Bureau Ellisa Johnson shared. “That’s why we’re encouraging people to respond before that so they don’t get a knock on the door.”
Originally, Census takers were slated to follow up with households in person until October 31. NPR reported on Thursday that Census takers will only be going to households until September 30 now, potentially leading to undercounting of individuals in some communities.
Locally, members of the Complete Count Winona County Committee, a group of individuals and organizations who have volunteered to help motivate community members to respond to the Census, have been focusing this summer on connecting with those they serve, as large community events cannot be held amid the pandemic, Complete Count Winona County Coordinator Brian Voerding noted. Local universities are reaching out to their students, local schools are connecting with families and local nonprofit organizations are contacting those they assist, for instance.
Counting individuals who are living in group settings, such as assisted living facilities and halfway homes, has been facilitated by the managers of those group settings, and it has gone well, Voerding stated.
Community members may check with their friends, family members and neighbors to see if they have completed the Census yet, Voerding said.
“That’s by far the best outreach,” Voerding shared.
Amid the pandemic, health and safety are key, Johnson noted, so Census takers will wear proper personal protective equipment as they follow up with households that have not yet responded to the Census. Census takers will also have been trained regarding social distancing, as well as other health and safety practices, prior to beginning their work. If household members are not home when a Census taker visits, an item such as a postcard or a letter will be left to provide the household with information about how to complete the Census.
Census takers will wear an ID badge, and they may have other materials, such as bags, with the Census Bureau logo. Their ID badges will include features such as their photo and a watermark.
All Census Bureau employees are sworn for life to keep information that is collected from households private under Title 13 of the U.S. Code. Violating the law may result in being sentenced to up to five years in a federal prison, being fined up to $250,000, or both.
“Confidentiality is of major importance for all of us that work for the Census Bureau,” Johnson shared.
The Census Bureau’s systems and infrastructure associated with Census responses submitted online have been tested to ensure data remains secure, Johnson said.
The Census determines how billions of dollars of federal funding are allocated to communities each year. That funding supports education, older adults and infrastructure, among other aspects of life.
“The Census is by far one of the most important civic responsibilities we have,” Johnson stated, adding that billions of dollars is a substantial amount of money, and making sure communities get their fair share is vital.
The Census affects programs related to agriculture and early childhood as well, Voerding noted. “Almost no matter your age, gender or background, the Census has an impact on your life,” Voerding shared.
The Census also governs how congressional and state legislative districts are drawn and how many representatives every state gets in the House of Representatives.
“It’s safe, easy … and it will impact us for the next 10 years,” Johnson stated.
The Census may be completed online by going to https://2020census.gov, over the phone by calling 844-330-2020 or through the mail by returning the paper questionnaire mailed by the Census Bureau to households. More information about applying to work for the Census may be found at https://2020census.gov/en/jobs.html.