Colleen McCarthy, a Partnership Specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau, visited with the Ravalli County Commissioners last week, drumming up support for the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census. Collection of census data is set to begin with a letter sent to residents in the first week of March followed on March 12 with the launching of the on-line application site and the activation of the phone line.
“What’s different about this census than any other to date,” said McCarthy, “is that you get a chance to respond on-line.” She said every head of household being queried can respond either by going on-line, by phone, or by regular mail. If you don’t, someone may come knocking at your door to ask you a few questions. Nine to be exact.
Even if someone comes knocking, you don’t have to worry, according to McCarthy. She said in her twenty years of working for the U.S. Census Bureau she has never heard of any action being taken against someone who refused to answer the census.
McCarthy is one of four Partnership Specialists going around the state encouraging the establishment of local Complete Count Committees composed of local volunteers who promote the 2020 Census and educate the community about the need for a complete count. The U.S. Census Bureau began hiring Partnership Specialists to carry out the 2020 Census a year ago in January. McCarthy was hired to serve 12 counties in the northeastern corner of the state and three Tribes.
Her duties multiplied when the Partnership Specialist for the southwestern portion of the state resigned in September. That specialist had contacted the county, according to Commission Chair Chris Hoffman, and the commission expressed a willingness to help but there was never a follow up.
McCarthy apologized for the dropped ball and said she was ready, albeit a bit late, to work on promoting the census.
“In the past they have gone out with federal folks,” said McCarthy, “and gone into a community and said, ‘Gee, we think this is the best thing for your community’,” said McCarthy. “Most of us, especially in Montana, don’t appreciate the feds coming in and telling us what’s best for us. So, we are coming into the community and asking for volunteers, trusted voices in your community that can help us promote the 2020 Census.”
She said that the federal government was ready to provide training and information about the decennial census “and then brainstorm a work plan as to how we can educate the folks in the community and tell them how important the 2020 Census is.”
One big reason to not have an undercounted population, according to McCarthy, is money. Money for things such as county roadways, school lunch programs, Head Start, and SNAP programs. All of these programs apportion their funds to the various states according to census data.
McCarthy said that about $675 billion is distributed annually to states based on census data. Montana receives about $3 billion of that. Determination of the exact amount is based on census data.
The U.S. Census Bureau has identified traditionally under counted communities and Montana’s Tribal lands are among the under counted. She noted that Montana lost a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives due to a low census count.
Those who fail to respond to the first letter in early March by either going on-line, or over the phone, will receive a second letter. If there is still no response, a postcard will be sent out. If the postcard is not responded to, another letter will be sent out. If that letter gets no response, a fifth and final letter will be sent out including a paper form that could be completed and mailed. If there is still no response, a census taker will be sent out to interview the head of household and complete the census on the spot with a laptop computer.
McCarthy said that the bureau was looking to hire local people to help in the data collection when it gets to the personal visit phase. She said the census taker position is part time and temporary, usually from sometime in April to sometime in July. The pay is $17 per hour.