As the U.S. prepares to count its population, invitations to participate in the 2020 Census will start arriving in households across our community between March 12 and March 20. For the first time in history, every household will have the option of responding to the census online or by phone. Census invitations will include instructions on how to complete the census as well as a code that will be associated with your residence and you access to the online or phone questionnaire. None of the mailings from the Census Bureau including the invitation will be address to your name, and so it is important not to treat it as junk mail, you should open it and follow the instructions to complete the census immediately.

Anyone who does not complete the census online or by phone will be sent a paper questionnaire the beginning of April. Census takers will start visiting in person those addresses without completed census forms between the end of April and July. For households needing to take the census in another language, the census is available online and by phone in 13 languages. Census takers will be able to administer the census in person in braille, sign language and 59 other languages.

In some rural communities in southwest Kansas, households may not receive mail at their home’s physical location but instead use PO boxes, these households will receive their census questionnaire when a census taker drops it off, otherwise they will complete the census in person from a census taker.

The census questionnaire will collect basic information about household members, the questions include the name, sex, date of birth and race of each person living in the household. It will also ask if a residence is a house, apartment or mobile home, this question helps produce statistics about home ownership. Aside from your immediate family members, everyone living in your home on April 1, and has lived or is expected to live in that residence the majority of the year, should be counted in in the census, this includes roommates, friends, extended family and people you may be renting a room or basement of your home to. While we often do not include people staying in our home for other purposes, it is imperative that we include every single person living in our home in the census. Not counting everyone, would cost our local community approximately $2,000 per person per year, these money funds many of the programs and services in our communities, and we all benefit them.

All personal information provided in the census questionnaire is safe and confidential, the Census Bureau is bound by law to keep all information confidential and sealed for 72 years. In addition, the Census Bureau will never send emails requesting participation in the 2020 Census and census employees will never ask for social security numbers, bank accounts, credit card information, or for money or donations. If you suspect that the person asking you for information is not a census employee, call the census regional office at 1-800-852-6159 to verify it’s a legitimate survey and the visitor is a Census Bureau employee, you should also contact your local law enforcement immediately.

Blanca Soto is the southwest Kansas campaign director for the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice and a member of the Kansas Complete Count Committee.