To say that our state, our nation and our world have changed dramatically in the past few months would be an understatement. At the NC Rural Center and the NC Counts Coalition, we know how much our work and the communities we serve have changed – and will change – because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We also know that as we move through this year with more uncertainty than ever before, there is one thing we can do to ensure the future health of our communities – and that’s getting counted in the 2020 Census. However, we can’t stop at counting ourselves and our household, we have to ensure that every household in our communities and state are accurately counted. And, in light of the recent decision to push up the census deadline from October to Sept. 30 – a decision that will disproportionately affect our state’s rural communities and people of color – it is now more crucial than ever that we take immediate action to count our communities.

Census data helps determine funding for federal programs that address community and public health, education, economic development resources, housing – all of which have taken on even more importance in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Census has tremendous power to influence what a community can become, but an accurate count depends on full participation.

According to census.nc.gov, a 3 percent undercount in North Carolina would ultimately cost our state more than $4 billion in funding. That means that we would lose $1.8 billion in funding for our rural communities, $930 million in funding for our Black and African American communities, $545 million for Hispanic and Latino communities, $50 million for North Carolina’s Native Americans, and more than $1.6 billion for veterans, children under 5, and North Carolinians over 65.

What’s more, the census only happens every 10 years. This means that if we are undercounted today, we will be underfunded tomorrow and every year until the next census, which will happen in 2030.

Simply put, the costs of an undercount are just too great to ignore – especially now.

In addition, if North Carolina receives an accurate count in the 2020 Census, we could gain another seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. This increase in our state’s representation at the federal level could be a crucial step in ensuring a more vibrant future for North Carolina as we recover and rebuild in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the first time ever, you can complete the census online at my2020census.gov. If you do not have broadband access, you can also complete the census by phone and by mail. If you need assistance, you can contact the 2020 census hotline at 844-330-2020 (English) or 844-468-2020 (Spanish). The census deadline has been amended to Sept. 30. Households that have not yet responded will receive a visit from an official census taker.

Count yourself in the 2020 Census and encourage others to do the same. North Carolina’s future depends on it.

Stacey Carless is executive director of the NC Counts Coalition, and Patrick Woodie is the president of the NC Rural Center.