Straight talk about the census

“The 2020 Census is more than a population count. It's an opportunity to shape your community's future.”

That is why it is so important for people to take time to answer the nine-question form, explains Scott Farmer.

Farmer is the Southeast Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission Executive Director and he’s among those working to explain the importance of this once in a decade opportunity for local communities for the next 10 years.

The 2020 Census will provide a snapshot of the nation to determine the number of legislators each state has in the House of Representatives. The date is also used to draw congressional and state legislative districts.

Farmer said that over the next decade, lawmakers, business owners and many others will use 2020 Census data to make critical decisions to include where communities need new schools, new clinics, new roads and more services for families, older adults and children.

The results of the 2020 Census will help determine how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding is disbursed to communities annually for hospitals, fire departments and school lunch programs. “That funding shapes many different aspects of every community, no matter the size, no matter the location,” Farmer said.

Census results affect planning and funding for education, to include programs such as Head Start, Pell Grants, school lunches, rural education, adult education and grants for preschool special education. Census results affect funding for healthcare programs to include Medicaid, Medicare Part B, State Children’s Health Insurance and the prevention and treatment of substance abuse.

Census results are used to adjust or redraw electoral districts, based on where populations have increased or decreased.

State legislatures or independent bipartisan commissions are responsible for redrawing congressional districts based on U.S. Census Bureau population counts. The United States population grew 9.7 percent between 2000 and 2010 and as a result, eight states gained seats in the House of Representatives and 10 states had fewer seats in the House of Representatives.

“Louisiana lost a seat after the 2010 Census,” Farmer said. “Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina gained seats.

“Since there are only 435 members spread throughout the country, the number of House members in each state may change depending on their proportion of population,” Farmer explained. “Even though Alabama is growing, it is growing slower than many other states which is why we are in danger of losing a legislative seat.

The census data is also used for local redistricting, such as city council districts and county commission districts, to ensure close to equal population between districts.

Farmer said the Census Bureau sent mailings out in early-mid March to each address in their system. The mailings contained a 12-digit Census ID and instructions to go to https://my2020census.gov. “The ID is tied to your address so once logged in, it should take you to a questionnaire associated with the particular address.

“If you did not receive a mailing with the 12-digit ID, you can still go to that website and once you answer a few questions, including verification of a complete street address, it will accomplish the same thing and allow you to answer 9 questions about your household,” Farmer explained. “The questions will need to be answered for each member of the household on the same questionnaire. One questionnaire per household should be completed.”

The deadline for the self-response phase of filling out the census goes through August 14. Gov. Kay Ivey’s goal is for Alabama to achieve 80 percent response. In 2010, Alabama had a 72 percent response rate.

The census response deadline has been extended until Oct. 31.

“Once you complete the online questionnaire you do not need to complete a paper form or respond through the telephone or any other methods,” Farmer said. “It might take a bit of time to get your information to get in the system but at some point you should not be bothered with additional mailings.”

Farmer said that if a person does not complete the form online, the Census Bureau will begin having enumerators contacting people over the summer to make sure they are aware of the census being conducted and to complete the census form. 

If someone claiming to be from the Census Bureau contacts you via email or phone and asks you for one of these things, it's a scam, and you should not cooperate.

 There are only 10 questions on the census asking basic demographic questions to include who lives in the household; how they are related; their age, sex and race; whether they own or rent their house; and their phone number.

The law prevents the Census Bureau from sharing the information you provide with law enforcement. “Your answers cannot be used to impact your eligibility for government benefits. Your answers are only used to create statistics about our country,” Farmer said.

The 2020 Census also does not ask whether the respondent or anyone in their home is a United States citizen.

During the 2020 Census, the Census Bureau will never ask you for your Social Security number, money or donations, anything on behalf of a political party or personal bank or credit card information.

“In Alabama, each person counts as approximately $1,600 received in federal funds annually,” Farmer said. “The 2020 results will be used by the federal government for funding many programs for the next 10 years, so it is very important we have everyone counted.”

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