With the deadline to respond to the 2020 U.S. Census being pushed back to Oct. 31 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials from the United States Census Bureau are urging all residents to complete their forms in order to ensure an accurate account for the once-in-decade program.
Kristi Hicks, who serves as a partnership specialist for the bureau, visited a recent meeting of the Lamar County Board of Supervisors, where she said since early March, 74 million people in the United States have responded to the questionnaire.
Mississippi stands at a 56.7 percent response rate, while in Lamar County, that number sits at 59.5 percent.
“So the goal is to always maintain the national average, but if we don’t maintain the national average, we at least want to keep up with whatever our state’s average is,” Hicks said. “So with our state’s average being 56.7 and Lamar County being 59.5, that’s pretty good, because we are over the Mississippi average.
“But here’s one of the concerns: Lamar County, in 2010, the self-response rate was 62.2.”
Self-response can be completed at www.my2020census.com or by calling (844) 330-2020.
In mid-July, bureau officials will conduct a non-response follow-up, during which census takers will visit the homes of individuals who have not self-responded to get those people to participate in the census.
Those workers will wear personal protective equipment – such as masks and gloves – as well as a badge, a bag and a vest to identify themselves.
“If you do not want someone to knock on your door, the easiest thing to do is to go online and complete the census,” Hicks said. “We are still allowing all residents to complete the census.”
Hicks said she was also concerned because Lamar County performed very well in the last census in 2010 with a 62.2 percent response rate, but the current rate is so far slightly behind that.
“Census Tract 206 is 48.7, and in 2010 it was 63.4,” she said. “So we know that we have work to do in Lamar County. I want you all, as a board, to use your platform, use your businesses, use social media, use your voice, to the constituents who live in the districts where you all live, to encourage them to respond to the census.
“This global pandemic is one reason why we all should respond, because of the hospitals – the population of where everyone lives determines where they’re going to hospitals. So we don’t want to lose the resources for individuals not completing the census because they may not know how to complete the census.”
Hicks said the goal is to always exceed the prior year’s numbers in the census. Among other things, the census determines how many congressional districts the state has – a fact Mississippi knows all to well, having dropped from 5 to 4 in the 2000 census. It also determines how legislatures draw district lines, depending on where people live.
“So if you do not complete your census, they’re going to redraw the lines around you,” Hicks said. “You’re not showing that you’re there, although you are there, so those lines are going to be redrawn.
“So that could affect the lines here in Lamar County for your supervisors, based on the count of the population. We’ll always have five supervisors, but based on how they redraw those lines, it could push a supervisor into another area.”
The census also 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.
“School districts – this is a critical time, with virtual learning,” Hicks said. “School districts receive so many federal funds based off the count of the population.
“So if we’re missing our children on the census and we’re not counting them, then our school districts are not receiving the funding to support those children. In a time like this, when we’re kind of uncertain on the 2021 school year, we want to make sure the school districts have all the resources for the children.”