Census Bureau makes extra effort to reach people in rural areas

March 04 2020

By Richard Bammer | rbammer@thereporter.com | Vacaville Reporter

PUBLISHED: February 29, 2020 at 6:01 p.m. | UPDATED: March 2, 2020 at 2:47 p.m.

The census, the national headcount required every 10 years, begins in coming weeks, and the U.S. Census Bureau will make an effort to figure out how many people live in the United States and five of its territories.

Counting people in cities may be relatively easy, but counting those who live outside urban areas and the homeless — and Solano County has considerable numbers of both — takes an extra effort.

It’s worth it as the count affects communities’ political representation, called apportionment, and some $675 billion in annual federal funding for the next 10 years, said Josh Green, a media specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau who lives and works in the East Bay.

State, local and federal officials use census data to divvy up taxpayer dollars for critical infrastructure and critical public services, among them hospitals and health-care clinics, schools (free and reduced-cost lunches and Head Start) and education, emergency response services, and roads and bridges, among other things.

All U.S. households with a residential mailing address will receive an invitation, likely a postcard or letter in the regular mail, to complete a questionnaire online between March 12 and 20. For the first time in the history of the census, people can respond online, by phone or by mail, Green said.

People will be counted where they live and sleep most of the time as of April 1, aka Census Day.

When filling out the questionnaire, respondents need to count everyone who lives in a household, including children, newborns and any relatives or others.

The process for military service members varies, but the Department of Defense makes an effort to count all active-duty personnel and their families living on or off-base, stateside, overseas or on a ship.

Many in rural areas receive their regular mail via a post office box number in a nearby town, but the Census Bureau does not mail to P.O. boxes, noted Green. So census-takers (formally called “enumerators”) will travel to such homes whether they are atop a mountain or at the end of a mile-long dirt road. On a first visit, a census-taker will leave a paper questionnaire, along with information about options to respond by phone or online, and confirm or record the physical location of the home. In-person follow-ups are made if no response is received.

But anyone can go online at www.census.gov and respond to the questionnaire starting March 22.

Green predicted that “95 percent of the country will be invited to go online,” however, and “self-respond.”

Census officials say the national headcount is important for rural America because specific federal program assist people who live outside urban areas. Among those programs are Rural Education, Rural Domestic Violence Assistance, water and waste systems, rural business development grants and rural housing preservation grants.

For the homeless, which Green called “a hard-to-count population,” census-takers will do their best by going to shelters, soup kitchens and encampments, he said.

Responses to the census are safe and secure. Federal law bars the Bureau from releasing personal census data to law enforcement, immigration agencies or other government agencies. And anyone who violates the law can receive as much as five years in prison, if convicted.

Even undocumented people will be counted and the Census Bureau makes an effort to count them, according to Green.

“It doesn’t matter — they get counted if they live here,” as mandated by the Constitution, he said. “Citizenship questions will not be asked.”

For those who may be interested in a job as a census enumerator, Green said the requirements are 1) being 18 years old; 2) being a citizen of the U.S.; and 3) having an email address. To apply online, visit www.2020census.gov/jobs.

He said census-taker jobs in Solano County pay $21 per hour and have flexible hours, with work lasting from mid-May to July 31.

Article was posted in The Reporter