Pine Belt prepares for 2020 census

By HASKEL BURNS,

About a month ago, Kristi Hicks, who serves as the partnership specialist the United States Census Bureau, visited Hattiesburg City Council to express the importance of the 2020 census and establishing Complete Count Committees to help ensure an accurate count.

Hicks has since followed that up with visits to the Petal Board of Aldermen and Lamar and Forrest county supervisors, who also have agreed to institute the committees in those communities.

The committees are made up of volunteers who spend time educating citizens and providing resources and knowledge regarding the census, using measures such as media briefings, rallies, recruiting census workers, and incorporating information in newsletters, mailings and social media posts.

“As a Complete Count Committee, what you’re doing is using your voice to spread the message of how critical it is to get an accurate count for the 2020 census,” Hicks told board members. “By not getting an accurate count, states and communities lose federal dollars.

“The federal government has already allocated over $675 billion to flow throughout the United States, but that’s contingent upon an accurate count. If you do not have an accurate count, then your cities and your states do not get the accurate dollars.”

The census determines funding for federal programs such as Head Start organizations, SNAP benefits, Medicaid and Medicare, free and reduced school lunches, and Housing and Urban Development initiatives. The census count also determines a state’s representation in Congress – a situation Mississippi knows all to well, as the state dropped down from five congressional seats to four after the 2000 count.

“In 2010, we remained the same – we have four,” Hicks said. “2020 is going to dictate where we stand – if we will remain the same, if we will increase, or if we will decrease.

“So we want you all to use your voices as elected officials within your careers, within your churches, within your families, to make sure everyone understands exactly why we do this count.”

Officials are allowed to create as many Complete Count Committees as they see fit, with any amount of members in each one.

“We’re working with the school districts, we’re working with the churches, we already have a homeless initiative and a Head Start initiative,” Hicks said. “So in the areas where we know they are hardest to count, we are sending groups people in those areas to try and form a relationship to make sure that we are able to spread that message.”

Residents will begin receiving information regarding the census via mail in mid-March 2020. Individuals can call the provided 1-800 number to respond, and for the first time in census history, participants will be able to respond to the count online.

If residents fail to self-respond, the Census Bureau will send representatives to those households for a non-response follow-up.

“When we send someone to the houses to collect that data, number one, we don’t know if it’s accurate,” Hicks said. “Two, we don’t know if we’ll have someone open the door.

“So we’re using federal dollars to pay persons, and in this area it’s $15 an hour. So we’re spending millions of dollars to send someone to get the data, when we could (instead) just have residents give us that data themselves by self-responding.”

According to the Census Bureau, Petal’s population during the 2010 census was 10,454. In the 2000 census, the city had a response rate of 76 percent, which increased to 78 percent for the 2010 census.

Lamar County had a participation rate of 75 percent in the 2010 census; that number decreased to 71 percent in 2010. The county had a population of 55,658 in 2010, according to that census.