Census participation helps direct funds, number of representatives in Congress

Every 10 years, the United States holds a census.

Steve Hale, senior partnership specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau, said the census is required by the Constitution.

“It’s been happening since 1790,” he said. “There are 10 general questions about people in the household, basic questions about who lives in the household, their ages, genders, some background information ... if they own or rent (their residence). It’s a relatively simple and straightforward form.”

On March 12 invitations in letterform to participate in the census will be sent out to 95% of households in the country, Hale said.

Melissa Dougherty-O’Hara, planner with Neighborhood & Development Services for Garden City and Garden City Complete Count Committee member, said at a Garden City Commission meeting that it’s important to participate in the census because the data “impacts so many facets of our life.”

It’s important both federally and locally, Dougherty-O’Hara said.

Federally, it can affect how many members of the House of Representatives there are for Kansas and other states, redraw or stall the need for changing state and local districts and how many federal dollars are allocated to states, Dougherty-O’Hara said.

"At the local level, data is very important,“ she said. ”When obtaining grants, many times population totals, age breakdowns and income is used to determine the basis for a need in a community.“

Census data is used in many ways, Hale said, including determining where to direct state and federal funds.

“Hundreds of programs like supplemental funds, food stamps, Head Starts, education funding, economic development work, roads, hospitals,” he said. “Those types of programs initially start with population counts derived from the census.”

When one household doesn’t respond, it can mean a potential loss of $59,375 over 10 years, Dougherty-O’Hara said.

Additionally, businesses use the data to make decisions about their location, workforce and who makes up their market, Dougherty-O’Hara said.

“Census counts ultimately help to provide information to plan for schools, housing and to ensure public safety,” she said.

Hale said it’s important that people know that no personal information will be given out — the data is kept confidential for 72 years, which was the extreme life expectancy in 1790, when the first census occurred.

"That number was determined to keep that information confidential as long as someone lives,“ he said. ”Its is not shared with any other agency — not with the IRS, any law enforcement agency or Homeland Security. Everything is kept with the Census Bureau per the Constitution.“

The counting process will begin in March and end in July.

There are new ways to participate in the census this year, Hale said.

“In the past it’s always been paper and pencil, where you receive a questionnaire in the mail and if you don’t fill it out on time a census person comes to your house to do it,” he said. “This time around it’s different, the big thing is getting people to respond to it online.”

On March 12, letterform invitations will be sent out and people will be provided with a number that corresponds to their specific address, Hale said. That’s how they can fill out the questionnaire via a computer, tablet or smartphone.

People can also respond by phone or via the paper questionnaire, which will be mailed out mid-April to every household that hasn’t responded yet.

For those who don’t speak English, 12 other languages can be accommodated via the phone and internet.

Those languages are Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Russian, Arabic, Tagalog, Polish, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Japanese, French and Spanish.

Dougherty-O’Hara said the Finney County Public Library will have people available during Census Day on April 1 to help those who speak a language not offered online or by phone.

Every person who lives in a household needs to be counted, she said, including newborns, children, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins. If they live in the residence, they should be counted.

For more information on the census, visit 2020census.gov.