Feb. 8, 2020 — With the 2020 census around the corner, coordinators in Lane County and the Siuslaw region are ramping up preparations and outreach efforts for the decennial survey.
According to Florence Mayor Joe Henry, participants in the census will “help shape the future of Florence for the next 10 years. … Florence’s census results guide tens of millions of dollars of federal funding every year.”
Local community groups, such as Siuslaw Vision and the Florence Area Community Coalition, have started sharing news and details about the census and why people should choose to fill out forms. In addition, the City of Florence Focus on Florence February Newsletter includes more information. These groups are connecting with the Census Partnership Program, which works with local governments and community organizations to encourage census responses.
According to the program, “Partnership efforts for the Census Bureau encompass building and engaging trusted voices to assist in meeting the overall 2020 Census goal of counting everyone once, only once, and in the right place.”
While these local and regional partnerships will work with U.S. Census Bureau staff to find ways to reduce the non-response rate for the community and improve the accuracy of the local count, the Lane Council of Governments (LCOG) is tasked with making sure that all addresses in the county of been verified.
“We are that point agency for the county to make sure that we are communicating with the Census Bureau about the addresses in Lane County so they can do a correct count,” said LCOG Executive Director Brenda Wilson.
Focus on Florence states “The 2020 Census will count every person in the country, no matter where they’re from, how old they are or where they’re living.”
In addition to her role at LCOG, Wilson has volunteered to coordinate a “complete count committee” for the county to optimize accuracy.
“It’s really important, especially for smaller cities,” said Wilson. “We’re talking SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), Medicaid, Medicare, educational funds, school lunch programs, Head Start, WIC (Women, Infants and Children), Section 8, children’s health insurance.”
Invitations to respond to the census online are scheduled to appear in Oregon mailboxes March 12 through March 20. Toward the end of that month, reminder letters will be sent out to those who haven’t responded. Between April 8-16, paper copies of the census will be distributed. Then from April 20-27, a final reminder postcard will be sent.
If a household still hasn’t responded after this, census workers will begin dropping by houses to remind people to reply.
The Census Bureau will publish the first results from the 2020 census — the total population for each state — by Dec. 31 this year.
More than $675 billion a year in federal funding is distributed based on census data, funding which is funneled to areas such as transportation, housing, education and healthcare.
According to Cottage Grove City Manager Richard Meyers, another member city of the Census Partnership Program, “Nonprofits in local communities will get funding from county sources and state sources based on the state population as well. So it’s not just the city government or school district, but a lot of our nonprofits that use those funds from the state or federal government. It has a direct local impact.”
On top of funding, the data can aid cities identifying what its focus areas should be.
“The information that is acquired from the census gives us a snapshot of what is going on the community,” said Meyers. “[It] helps us look at what we might need to be looking at. For instance, is our population aging as fast as everywhere else or is it aging faster than other places?”
Certain demographics have been challenging to count in the past, too, which has led to an effort to increase accuracy.
“The other thing that will be important is what’s going on with our Latino population,” said Meyers. “What’s the number? How is it growing? What’s changing? We won’t know who it is or those specifics, but that is important information for us to be able to get services to match those needs.”
The Census Bureau estimates that Lane County’s population is approximately 10 percent Latino.
In the 2016 fiscal year, the George Washington Institute of Public Policy reported that Oregon received nearly $13.5 billion through 55 federal spending programs which were informed by data derived from the 2010 census.
The census also determines how many representatives each state gets in the United States Congress.
According to Census Bureau estimates, Oregon is among a handful of states whose population has grown significantly since the 2010 census and could therefore gain a sixth seat in the U.S. House of Representatives after the 2020 census.
During the 2010 census, Oregon was estimated to have missed its opportunity to gain another seat by a count of just over 40,000 people.
“A little under 80 percent of Oregon households responded,” said Wilson. “So that leaves, we estimate, about 36,000 Oregonians who won’t respond in 2020.”
At the Feb. 3 Florence City Council meeting, Henry said, “I want to encourage everybody to be involved in the census, for no other reason than I believe that we don’t always get counted, and a lot of our revenue is determined by the head count in our community.”
Western Lane County had a non-response rate of approximately 20 to 40 percent, according to data on the Census Bureau website.
“So we’re working with these jurisdictions that have low-response census tracks to target our efforts,” said Wilson. “There are a variety of methods: outreach, education, information.”
Barriers to high responses include highly mobile individuals, complex living arrangements, lack of knowledge about the census, language barriers, rapidly changing technology causing disuse of USPS mail and distrust of government.
Due to some of the personal nature of the questions, distrust is a notable barrier to responsiveness.
Questions in the 2020 census will ask participants for their name, age, address, how many people are living or staying at a home, whether the home is owned or rented, about the sex, age and race of each person in the home and whether someone is of Hispanic, Latin or Spanish origin.
The last question has been a point of contention for many who fear the data will be used for persecution.
The Census Bureau has stated that it is asking the question for statistical purposes, which will in turn inform numerous policies such as those regarding civil rights or funding for group-specific government programs.
“ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) isn’t going to follow the Census Bureau around. That’s another rumor,” said Wilson. “Information you provide to the Census Bureau is confidential.”
Privacy and Safety
By law, all responses to the census are kept confidential. The law states that the information collected may only be used for statistical purposes.
Still, the question of access to this data has seen its day in court.
In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that address lists are protected confidential information and cannot be disclosed through legal discovery or the Freedom of Information Act. More recently, in 2010, the U.S. Justice Department determined that the Patriot Act does not overrule the legal protections of confidentiality.
Legal precedent has essentially established that no court of law can subpoena census responses.
Furthermore, the Census Bureau states that personal data cannot be used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Homeland Security nor ICE.
“Your responses are completely confidential,” Focus on Florence affirmed. “The Constitution prevents census information from being shared or being used against you by any government agency or court in any way. Census employees swear a lifetime oath of confidentiality, and census responses are shielded from the FBI, CIA, ICE, local law enforcement and even the powers of the Patriot Act. It’s secure!”
Though these legal protections exist, Wilson warned respondents to protect themselves from potential scams.
A letter has already begun circulation, for instance, which claims to be a form for the “2020 Congressional District Census” commissioned by the Republican Party.
“It looks like a census form,” said Wilson. “But at the very bottom of that form it’s asking for a donation. No one will ever be asked to pay to respond to the census.”
Requests to respond to the census over email, phone or text message are also suspect and it is recommended that such solicitations are not given a response.
“It’s really important people respond to [the census] and they respond to the actual one,” Wilson said.
When invitations come in the mail, respondents are instructed to count everyone in the household, including infants, and can respond by phone, online or through mail.
“We just want to have everyone in our community count,” Henry said. “I encourage you to do that.”
Paid supervisory and non-supervisory positions are still available with the Census Bureau in Lane County. Applications may be found online at 2020census.gov/jobs.