U.S. Census officials are gearing up for next year’s nationwide count, whose results directly affect how much money the state gets for critical programs, Census partnership specialist John Cummings told Curry County commissioners Wednesday.
The agency will be hiring people this spring to form “Complete Count Committees” to determine how local communities can best be counted.
The first Census was held in 1790 to determine the number of representatives each state should be allowed in Congress. It also helps define district lines in states as people relocate around the country.
The Midwest and New York have lost representative seats in recent years, and the West has picked them up, Cummings said. Oregon might even gain an additional seat next year.
The distribution of more than $675 billion in federal funds is based on Census data collected. And more than $10 billion — $2,492 per capita — is on the line for Oregon programs, including those that provide lunches and subsidized health care for children, Medicaid, highway planning and others.
Based on the last Census, Oregon received $6.68 billion for Medicaid, $1.15 billion in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, $460 million for Medicare Part B, $430 million for highway planning and construction and $233 million for subsidized housing vouchers. Other money went to Title I grants for schools, Head Start, foster care, the Women Infants and Children program and low-income home energy assistance.
“(Participation) is imperative in rural Oregon, given the federal money we stand to lose by not having a complete count,” said county Commissioner Chris Paasch. “I think we’ll be surprised how many people have been added to our county if we have enough people counting them.”
The numbers are also critical in the private sector, where businesses use them in decision-making and individuals seek out desirable cities to which to move.
Census officials spent much of last year and this determining where and how to count people. They plan to rely on about 45 percent of the populace to self-report via the internet.
Those who don’t respond on computer can do so via mail, and then canvassers will hit the streets to verify addresses and count residents. In highly inaccessible areas, such as Alaska and parts of Maine, Census-takers will use sled dogs to find residents.
Censuses will be available in numerous languages, as well.
There are 11 questions on the Census next year since the president wants a tally to determine the citizenship of respondents. Proponents of that additional question say it’s needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act and protect against voting discrimination and fraud.
That proposal is being contested in the Supreme Court and should be decided next month, Cummings said. Detractors say that question might deter minority populations — citizen or not — from responding to the survey.
“People are mandated to participate (in the Census),” Cummings said. “It doesn’t say anything about answering all the questions.”
Populations that are difficult to accurately count include children under the age of 5, seniors, homeless, migrants, renters and communities with limited access to the internet. Commissioners here noted Census officials’ hoped-for 45 percent internet response rate in Curry County could be difficult as many elderly don’t use computers and others don’t have them at home.
County Director of Operations Julie Schmelzer said the homeless population here could be difficult to count, as well.
“I’ve been told the homeless counts are grossly inaccurate,” she said of the Point-in-Time counts conducted each winter. “We just don’t know.”
This year, Complete Count Committees will be formed and 248 census offices will open, joining six regional and 409 area offices that opened last year.
Advertising begins in early 2020, followed by online, phone or mail counts leading up to Census Day, Apri 1. Canvassers will hit the streets to tabulate those who might have been missed and final numbers are submitted to the federal government by the end of the year and redistricting figures to the states by March 31, 2021.