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County, Census Bureau talk about educating the public

With the next U.S. Census scheduled for next year, partnership specialists are already reaching out to educate community leaders on what the census does and does not do. Most notably for the Troup County Board of Commissioners, who heard a presentation on the census on Thursday, an accurate count of citizens in the county could mean more federal funding for the county. 

“If 5 percent of our people comply of the 70,000 people that we think are in Troup County, that is $5.2 million [in federal funding missed],” County Commission Chairman Patrick Crews said. “That is 3,500 people, which to me sounds fairly in line with what we could expect.”

According to the presentation on Tuesday, an accurate census also makes it easier to draw district lines accurately.

“If you miss 500 people in the county, that is 500 people every year that are not being counted in the census,” said Ty Harps, a partnership specialist with the Atlanta Regional Census Center. “When you are talking about fair representation, we are talking about [how] we want people to represent us who speak and look like us. When we send people to Congress, we want the lines to be drawn correctly, so you have to think about redistricting and all that good stuff that comes along with the Census.”

According to Harps, Troup County had a low census count in 2010, meaning that the county likely lost out on funding, and he said that educating people on the census will be the key to changing that. He emphasized the fact that census data is not shared with any other agencies, and addresses only remain in the bureau’s system until a completed survey is turned in — a process that is now significantly easier than it was in 2010.

“2020 will be better than ever,” Harps said. “There are three ways that you can complete the census. One of the ways is via electronic [devices]. You can complete it anytime, anywhere via your mobile phone, your mobile app, laptop, iPad or things of that nature. Another way is the traditional way [with] snail mail. We will send out forms and get those forms completed, send it back, and the other way is you can call a 1-800 number and complete the census through a sworn census officer over the phone. They’ll put in your information. There is no reason why everybody cannot complete the census this year.”

However, those changes would be meaningless if no one knew about them, which is why the U.S. Census Bureau recommended a group called a complete count committee be formed to educate citizens on the census.

“We want your complete count committee to be as diverse as your community,” Harps said. “With that being said, if you have a large Spanish [speaking] population, we want a Spanish person on your count committee. Those are the people who can reach those actual demographics.”

Harps recommended that influential voices in the community get involved in the education aspect of what the census is and does. He mentioned local pastors and community leaders as people who could help with the education aspect of the census.

“It has been such a long time that people have been scared of the census,” Harps said. “You will hear them say that, ‘I don’t want the government in my business.’ And this and that. This is not about the government getting in your business. The census money feeds federal programs such as infrastructure, roads, senior citizens’ programs, education, SNAP, food stamps, public housing, things of that nature. That is what that money comes back into the city to do, so when you have an area or county that has a low count, that means they are missing out on federal funds that the state has gotten from the federal government, and these funds are going to the cities or the counties that have the count up where it is supposed to be.”

Census Day is April 1, 2020, but other aspects of the census will begin this year, including establishing complete count committees, updating address lists in person and launching partnerships, like the one with Troup County. Redistricting counts should be sent to the states by March 31, 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.