By Beth Lawrence
Uncle Sam wants you − to participate in the 2020 Census.
In March, Jackson County residents will begin receiving requests by mail to participate in the Census.
The federal government is not the only government that wants Census participation. County leaders encourage participation because they know that information gathered will benefit everyone.
“The overwhelming majority of the county’s budget is spent in providing services to the citizens of Jackson County,” said Board of Commissioners Chairman Brian McMahan. “Many of these budgetary dollars we collect are based upon population counts. It is important to have accurate numbers to ensure that Jackson County is collecting our full allotment and that citizens are getting the services they need. Every person counts, and when every person is counted, we are a much stronger community.”
The U.S. Census is taken once every decade to gather information in a number of areas. Those details are collected for many reasons.
“The most impactful for our community is the money,” Caroline LaFrienier, a county planner said. “Six hundred seventy five billion dollars in federal funds are distributed to support states, counties and communities based on Census data. The money is then used to fund many vital programs.”
Another reason is politics.
The numbers gleaned from Census data help the federal government determine representation. Results are used to determine how many seats each state is allowed in the House of Representatives.
It also helps draw district lines. Following each Census, state officials redraw district lines for congressional and state legislative districts based on population growth or loss, LaFrienier said.
The government is not the only group to use the information. Businesses, developers, local governments, even first responders use the Census material to determine whether to locate a business, housing development, fire station, or school or Head Start in a given area.
“Residents should participate because at one point or another in their life, they will use or be impacted by the services that are provided through funding received based on Census data,” LaFrienier said.
Knowing the numbers helps determine and plan for: natural disaster and other emergency response, the need, location and funding for services, including healthcare and senior centers, transportation and infrastructure such as roads, bridges, water and sewer services.
It also helps finance programs for low income residents. Population and income level numbers gathered help fund Medicaid, school lunch programs, heating assistance, foster care and services for the homeless.
Census questionnaires ask name, sex, age, date of birth, race, number of people living in the home and their relationship to the person answering the questionnaire, home ownership status and phone number.
The Census Bureau does not ask for Social Security numbers, banking or credit card information, fees or donations, or political affiliation.
“All responses to the Census are safe, secure and protected by federal law,” LaFrienier said. “Responses can only be used to produce statistics. They cannot be used against you in any way.”
The information cannot be used by law enforcement or to determine eligibility for government benefits.
Laws require the Census Bureau to protect personal information and keep it confidential.
Census Bureau employees take an oath to protect the information for life. A violation could lead to a $250,000 fine or up to five years in prison.
The form is available in 12 languages. Census support is available in 59 languages including American Sign Language, braille and large print.
Paper copies of the form will be sent to every household, but the survey can be completed over the phone.
This year participants can respond online.
A postcard will be sent out with a code specific to that address. Use the code to participate online. Those without internet access can get help at the library or Department on Aging.
Census takers begin canvassing homes that have not responded in May and June and can help residents who may be having trouble filling out forms.
Census responses are closed for decades.
“Under Title 44 of the U.S. Code, the National Archives and Records Administration, Census records are only to be released after 72 years,” LaFrienier said. “In 2022, the 1950 Census will be released for research and historical and genealogical purposes.”