The reason the United States conducts a census is to determine how many seats each state will get in Congress. That's a pretty big deal!Assistant Regional Census Manager Marilyn Stephenson
RINCON — Americans are running out of time to be counted by the U.S. Census Bureau.
According to Assistant Regional Census Manager Marilyn Stephens, data collection will continue through Sept. 30.
“Most people don’t realize that we have to account for 100 percent of the households in the nation,” Stephens said. “In Effingham County, the response rate is 63.5 percent, which is just under the national average (64.7). The state of Georgia average is 59.9 percent.”
The response rate is based on the number of questionnaires returned to the U.S. Census Bureau since they were mailed to households in March. Answers can still be submitted online (my2020census.gov) or by phone (1-844-330-3030).
Everyone living in the United States, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands is required by law to be counted. The count is mandated by the U.S. Constitution and conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, a nonpartisan government agency.
“We have to account for the remainder of the non-responding households to get to 100 percent,” said Stephens, who is based in south Florida. “We may call those households to secure the information. For some, we may actually knock on their door.
“After a few attempts, we will go to their neighbor, a building manager or someone else to ask about the people who live there.”
Stephens said census workers are equipped with a photo ID card and black bag with blue markings, including the insignias of the U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Commerce. She added that census workers are also required to wear a mask and maintain social distancing because of COVID-19.
“If people don’t answer the door, we are going to leave a card,” she said. “If someone responds within two days of receiving the card, we won’t come back to their door. The call center is open every day from 7 a.m. until 2 a.m.”
The U.S. Census Bureau’s quest for information isn’t based on nosiness, Stephenson said.
“The reason the United States conducts a census is to determine how many seats each state will get in Congress,” she said. “That’s a pretty big deal! Why?
“Because the more seats you have in Congress, the bigger the state’s voice and the wider the pipeline of resources that the state will get over a 10-year period.”
Stephens said the federal government disperses about $675 billion in resources every year.
“Most of us don’t realize that is for such services and programs as emergency preparedness and emergency management,” Stephens said. “Here we are in a pandemic and in the middle of hurricane season. It’s important for healthcare services such as Medicare, Medicaid, rural hospitals and other healthcare services such as health centers.
“Here we are doing COVID-19 testing and every person that you talk with in leadership says, ‘We need more resources.’ The Census is how the allocation of these resources is determined.”
School districts depend on accurate Census counts for proper funding of Title I programs, special education and bilingual education.
“Even for free and reduced lunch programs — all that funding and formulas (are determined by the Census),” Stephens said. “And how about the Head Start and Early Head Start programs? One mother said to me, ‘My child had to sit out a year of Head Start because they said they didn’t have any more slots.’
“She said, ‘That makes me so angry because it makes no sense to me. If the children are eligible, why can’t they get into the program?’ I told her it’s because the numbers don’t support the need.”
Pell Grants, public transportation, Meals on Wheels and unemployment benefits are other areas impacted by the Census.
“Social services — there are more than 140 programs that we depend on and the Census is the way that America knows what America needs over a decade,” Stephenson said.
Stephens said information gathered during the count is protected by Title 13 and Title 44 of the U.S. Code. The U.S. Census Bureau is forbidden to release anything to another government entity that would identify an individual or their household based on the responses it receives.
“The information cannot be subpoenaed by the courts or even gotten by the president,” Stephens said.
Census information can only be provided in statistical or tabulation form, she said.