Accurate census vital to area, city, county officials say

Cities and counties in Arkansas are preparing now for the 2020 U.S. Census, which will begin in April to get an accurate count of the people living in the state.

Census Day will be April 1, with official counting beginning throughout the country. The Census is taken every 10 years.

The federal government allocates more than $675 billion each year for local government programs and services.

The head count is set to officially begin on Jan. 21, in Toksook Bay, Alaska, according to the U.S. Census. “Most households can start participating around mid-March, when letters with instructions are scheduled to be sent to 95 percent of homes around the country.”

The Census Bureau listed other dates of importance:

• March 12-20, everyone will get an invitation to respond to the 2020 Census.

• March 16-24, you should receive a reminder letter.

• March 26-April 3 there will be a reminder postcard sent.

• April 20-27 there will be a final reminder postcard before Census takers follow up in person.

Huntsville Mayor Darrell Trahan said an accurate count is needed this year.

“The turnback monies are based on population and so obviously what our Census is the more turnback money we will get,” he said. “It makes us eligible for other funds so it’s really important we get a good count on everybody.”

Madison County Judge Frank Weaver agreed.

“It is important. I know on the state level every county needs to make sure that to the best of their abilities to get everyone in each county counted for the 2020 Census and that is because of the money that the state gets overall from that. It is really important that everyone gets counted for that,” he said.

Turnback money is used to fund programs throughout the state, he said.

Huntsville in 2010 had a population of 2,346 while Madison County had 15,717. An estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau on July 1, 2018, had the county’s population at 16,481.

“I know in the 2010 Census 10 years ago, the population increased by about 10 percent,” Weaver said. “I don’t know if it will do that this time or not. I suspect it’ll be that or slightly above it maybe.”

Weaver said he has seen the county’s population increase since 2010.

“We have grown in the western part of the county and in other parts of the county, too,” he said. “I’m anxious to see what that will be. If it’s 10 percent, that will put our population over 17,000, if in fact it is 10 percent.”

Trahan said he has seen families move to Huntsville, but has seen many leave, as well.

“I just don’t know,” he said when asked about the city’s population. “It’s been so fluid. I just kind of base it on how the school is growing. Right now our numbers are down a little bit.

“Lots of folks are moving in and moving out, but I think we’ll still see some growth.”

Weaver noted, “It is very important and especially when it comes to those services that the state receives funding from the federal government for that to be disbursed out to the counties and whatever agency that is served in that county, so it is vitally important.”

Weaver said the county has followed guidelines provided by the Census’ LUCA, or Local Update of Census Addresses Operation.

According to the Census’ website, “Governments that participated in LUCA help ensure an accurate decennial Census count for their communities.

“An accurate count helps the federal government annually allocate more than $675 billion across 26 federal agencies for tribal, state, and local government programs and services.”

The Census is required by the Constitution, which has called for an “actual enumeration” once a decade since 1790, according to the Census Bureau. “The 2020 population numbers will shape how political power and federal tax dollars are shared in the U.S over the next 10 years. The number of congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets are determined by Census numbers.

“They also guide how ... federal funding is distributed for schools, roads and other public services in local communities. The demographic data are used by businesses to determine, for example, where to build new supermarkets and by emergency responders to locate injured people after natural disasters.”

Huntsville Economic Development Director Nancy Marsh organized a meeting last September about the Census, but said attendance was poor.

“The people from the Census Bureau have been over here and we’re supposed to have a Census Bureau type community committee that’s working on that. We had a meeting, we had a very poor turnout for that,” she said.

“Now’s the time to kind of beef that up again so we’ll probably try again to gather up some people.” Marsh will retire from her job on Jan. 31. Her replacement will be announced at the next City Council meeting, Trahan said.

Marsh noted, “You take the key stakeholders and you try to get them to get all their employees or their networks to complete the Census. This year they’re wanting it to be done online.”

The Census is looking to hire people to help with the count in Madison County. For details, visit https://2020Census.gov/jobs or call 1-855-JOB-2020 (1-855-562-2020).

The temporary jobs “are  flexible and pay competitive wages,” according to Staci Evans, director of the Madison County Library in Huntsville.

“We have already hosted three hiring  events for them with several people in the community attending to attain these jobs,” Evans said. Another event was held on Tuesday of this week.

Pay rates for Census takers in Arkansas have increased, with a range from $17 to $23.50 per hour.

Marsh said the jobs are a great chance for those looking for work.

“It’s a great opportunity for people,” she said. “It sounded like great employment. It’s short-term, but they were having trouble getting people from Huntsville to be Census workers and then they said you’d hate to send people from Benton and Washington counties over to work in Madison County when they’re surely people around here that would need a job.”

This year’s Census needs to bring the community together, Marsh said.

“It’s supposed to be a community approach to it, so hopefully as we get closer I look at like the school and Butterball, maybe try to do some parents’ nights at the school to try to get the parents signed up,” she said.

According to the Arkansas State Data Center, “Arkansas receives six to seven billion annually in federal dollars based on the results of the national Census. These funds support Medicaid and grants for transportation, education, public housing, community development, and dozens of other critical federal programs.”

Undercounting those in Arkansas will mean a loss in money to the state.

“Every uncounted Arkansan means a loss of approximately $3,000 each year for the next 10 years and even a 1% undercount can add up to $750 million in lost federal funds,” the data center said on its website.

In September 2019, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued an executive order to establish the Arkansas Complete Count Committee to promote statewide participation in the 2020 Census. The committee will consist of 30 volunteer members appointed by the governor from state, municipal, and county government, as well as citizen and private sector representatives.

Huntsville City Clerk Janice Smith said her office has had limited chances to work with the Census thus far.

“We’ve just posted some fliers that they’ve sent us from time to time, when they were looking for workers and different things.

“It’s important, it’s very important, but I don’t know how you get people to see that,” she said.

The 2020 Census will be the first time people can respond by using the Internet or by calling 1-800 numbers to give responses over the phone.

Smith said she isn’t sure if the online addition this year will help or hurt the effort to get accurate numbers.

“I don’t know. Myself, personally, I would come near filling it out in paper format that came in my mail rather than logging online to do it. ... I don’t think [older generation] they’ll go online, but the way it sounded was they are going to follow up with paper if you don’t do it online, so I guess we don’t risk losing people. ... The younger generation may be more apt to go online and do it.”

Questions on this year’s Census will be:

• The number of people living or staying at your home on April 1, 2020.

• Whether the home is owned or rented.

• The sex of each person in the household.

• The age of each person in the household.

• The race of each person in the household.

• Whether a person in the household is of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin.

• The relationship of each person in the household to each other.

President Donald Trump in 2019 proposed adding another question: “Are you a citizen of the United States of America?”

The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the president’s quest to add a citizenship question.

Marsh said, “They took off the citizenship part of it. One of the things that would be very important to Huntsville and Madison County is to get a true count of who all is living here. That will help us with taxes and funding and grant funding. Everybody looks at Census data whenever you apply for any kind of funding.”

Some people are still leery of the Census, Marsh said.

“I think a lot of people have been reluctant to do in the past like the government is going to track them down or do something. I don’t think there’s anything on there that will do that.”

The U.S. Census Bureau on Dec. 30 projected that the U.S. population was to be 330,222,422 on Jan. 1, 2020. “This represents an increase of 1,991,085, or 0.61%, from New Year’s Day 2019. Since Census Day (April 1) 2010, the population has grown by 21,476,884 or 6.96%,” a news release said.

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