La Dawn Hale speaks to the Rotary Club of Murray last week about the 2020 U.S. Census. Residents are asked to return their forms – either by mail or online – by April 1.

MURRAY – La Dawn Hale spoke to the Rotary Club of Murray last week about the importance of filling out the 2020 U.S. Census and how the public can help ensure the process proceeds smoothly.

“The 2020 Census is coming up and is now less than 90 days away,” said Hale, who is a partnership specialist for the Philadelphia Regional Census and works within eight counties. “We have been in the education phase, we are now on the awareness phase, and in March, we will be in the ‘fill out the form’ phase.”

Hale said the U.S. Census became a Constitutional mandate after President George Washington charged his secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson, in 1790 with ensuring everyone in the country was counted. After that, it was mandated in the Constitution that a new census be taken every 10 years, she said. The count has many effects, including the apportionment of congressional seats each state gets. She noted that Kentucky lost a seat after the 1990 Census, bringing the total down to six.

“They conduct redistricting at the federal, state and local levels; you’ll notice the redistricting of your school district lines (and other items) has to do with the census,” Hale said. “I did not realize how much the census had to do with a lot of decisions at the community and state levels until I took this position. It is so interesting. Over $675 billion are allocated every single year – not just every 10 years – to be distributed to each community, and that distribution is made according to the numbers that each community presents. Therefore, that is one of the main reasons it is important to make sure everyone gets counted.”

Hale said census data provides statistical support for grant applications and helps communities plan for their future needs. Many, many programs use Census Bureau data, including (but not limited to) Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicare Part B, highway planning and construction, Section 8 housing choice vouchers, Title I grants to educational institutions, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) and Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP).

Hale said the goal of the U.S. Census Bureau is simple: to “count everyone once, only once and in the right place.” She said the Census Bureau aims to do at least as well as it did in 2010, which Hale said was considered a success.

“We do have a new, online format this time,” Hale said. “Ten years ago, technology was there but not as advanced, so you couldn’t fill it out online. This year, every household will have the opportunity to fill it out online. If you cannot fill it out online and you don’t have those capabilities, you can call the number that will be in the letter that will go to your household and fill it out via phone or you can ask for the paper form.”

Hale said households should receive an invitation in the mail between March 12-20 asking them to respond to the 2020 Census online. A reminder letter should then arrive around March 16-24, and the Census Bureau is aiming to get most people to respond by April 1, known as Census Day.

If the residents do not respond to the first prompt, they will receive a reminder postcard between March 26 and April 3. Then a reminder letter and paper questionnaire would be sent around April 8-16. A final reminder postcard would be sent around April 20-27, and if the household still hasn’t responded by then, a census taker would come to the door at some point with a questionnaire to fill out.

Hale added that all information collected by the Census Bureau is required by federal law to be kept confidential. Results are reported in statistical summary format only, and no information will be shared with any other government agency. Records are kept confidential by law for 72 years, and the penalty for wrongful disclosure is up to five years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine.

Hale that that during the 2000 Census, Kentucky’s self-response rate was 72%, which that was the percentage of the population that filled out their forms and sent it in at the first opportunity. That rate increased to 77% in 2010, she said.

“That was the result of 192 Complete Count Committees being formed,” Hale said. “There were no Complete Count Committees in 2000. Calloway County has a very active Complete Count Committee. As a matter of fact, they will be meeting – and if you want to write this down somewhere, we invite you to the next Calloway County Complete Count Committee – on Tuesday, Jan. 14. It will be at the Big Apple Café at 2 p.m. We need constituents from businesses, schools, non-profit organizations and faith-based organizations to help spread the word about the importance of filling out the Census.”

Hale listed some of the harder-to-count populations, including renters, homeless people, low-income households and households with a language barrier. She said Murray State University students – including international students – can be hard to count because those students might not think of themselves as permanent Murray residents and don’t realize the importance of the census data.

“College students are transient and they think they need to put down their home address in Alabama or wherever; no, they need to put down their address here at Murray State or West Kentucky Community & Technical College,” Hale said. “Wherever you live six months or more out of the year is the address you put on the census form.”

Hale said children 5 and younger can also be hard to count because some parents don’t understand that young children are weighted just as equally as anyone else. Hale said noted that many of the grants and government services dependent on Census Bureau data are targeted toward children, so if those kids aren’t counted, another decade will pass before they have another opportunity.

Hale said the Census Bureau is hiring 500,000 census takers (called “enumerators”) across country, and it aims to have 491 applicants from Calloway from which to choose. Members of the community may apply to be a census taker online at 2020census.gov/jobs. For more information or help applying, people may call 10855-JOB-2020.

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