A guide to 2020 Census

Photo from the U.S. Census Bureau

CULLMAN, Ala. – On Wednesday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama and U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham visited Cullman, addressing a large luncheon crowd at Cullman Regional about the need for an accurate count in the upcoming 2020 census. But what makes the census so important?

Census counts affect apportionment of federal funds and state representation in Congress

The U.S. Constitution, Article One, Section Two provides for a population count every 10 years that will determine both the number of representatives a state receives in the United States House of Representatives and the apportionment of taxes.

Ivey told her audience Wednesday, “Having an accurate and complete census is vitally important because of the correlation between the participation rate and the federal funds we get that go to health care, infrastructure, education, and on and on. Folks, if we turn out at the rate we did in 2000, we will lose two congressional seats. If we turn out to the rate we had in 2010, we’ll lose one.”

According to the official website www.census.gov, “Federal funds, grants and support to states, counties and communities are based on population totals and breakdowns by sex, age, race and other factors. Your community benefits the most when the census counts everyone. When you respond to the census, you help your community gets its fair share of the more than $675 billion per year in federal funds spent on schools, hospitals, roads, public works and other vital programs.

“Businesses use census data to decide where to build factories, offices and stores, and this creates jobs. Developers use the census to build new homes and revitalize old neighborhoods. Local governments use the census for public safety and emergency preparedness. Residents use the census to support community initiatives involving legislation, quality-of-life and consumer advocacy.”

According to Aderholt, the state receives $1,600 in federal funds per year for each person counted in the census.

How the 2020 census will work

The 2020 census will officially count all persons living in Alabama on April 1, 2020. Certain census activities are already underway.

Census workers recently began surveying addresses to make sure that dwelling places are actually occupied, in preparation for the official count coming next year. They use existing address lists along with such resources as satellite imagery to identify recently constructed dwellings in a given community. Their information will give direction to the workers performing the official count to follow.

When the official count begins, approximately 95% of citizens will receive their invitations to participate in the census in the mail, while around 5% will get their invitations directly from a census worker and fewer than 1% will be counted directly by a census worker. Special provisions have been made in the planning for counting students living in college or university housing and even those who are homeless.

Those who receive invitations will have instructions on how to respond and will be able to respond by mail, by phone or online. In cases when responses are not received from a known address, census workers can go and knock on the door.

Invitations will be mailed out March 12-20, staggered over several days to help prevent rushes of large numbers of people who could overwhelm the website or back up phone lines. In areas where residents are unlikely to respond online, invitation letters will be accompanied by a paper version of the census questionnaire. Reminders will be sent a few days later. For those who do not respond by the first of April, a second reminder will go out, followed by another letter and paper questionnaire. Starting April 20, census workers will begin knocking on the doors of households that still have not responded.

For a sample of the 2020 census questionnaire, visit https://www2.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial/2020/technical-documentation/questionnaires-and-instructions/questionnaires/2020-informational-questionnaire.pdf

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W.C. Mann