All about the money
Accurate census count, accurate funding, better representation
Census data defines communities for a decade. Data is used to redistrict, refund and redefine demographics. While Madison County is a travel destination for many, it is also home to many more, and as such it is important for those living here to make sure they are counted.
“We know that an accurate and complete count of all Montanans is critical for determining the federal funding distributed to the state for education, highways, health care and over 300 other programs,” Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said in a press call on June 17.
Laurie Cipriano, senior media specialist for Colorado, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska for the U.S. Census Bureau, explained that census statistics determine how billions of dollars in federal funds will be allocated by state, local and federal lawmakers annually over the next ten years. Gov. Bullock said approximately $20,000 is attributed to each person counted over the decade by Census Bureau estimates.
The objective of the census is to get a complete count of every individual living in the United States and its five territories—Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa. It should be filled out at the location, “where you are living and sleeping most of the time as of April 1, 2020 (Census Day),” the 2020 census website explained.
This is straightforward for many, but may be less clear for college students, service members, those moving, residing in multiple residences, without a permanent address, or living in a hotel. The census website runs through these categories and more and offers advice on how to respond in these cases.
Anyone, related or unrelated, who lives or sleeps in your home ‘most of the time’ as of April 1—which could include roommates, young children, newborns, renters or someone in your home on April 1 with no home elsewhere—should be included in a single residence.
In the coronavirus climate, displaced college students are to fill out the census for where they would normally be residing on April 1 if not for the pandemic. This is specific to college students and does not apply to seasonal employees who may have been displaced for the same reason.
Census questions this year ask how many people live in a household, if the residence is rented or owned, phone numbers of residents and the name, sex, age, date of birth and race of each person in the household. Responders are also asked to identify Hispanic, Spanish or Latino origin, which are not considered races for this census. Write in areas allow responders to clarify what they identify as their race or origin.
In June 2019, the Supreme Court rejected the addition of a citizenship question to the 2020 census, which was proposed by the Trump Administration.
Data is aggregate and compiled as statistics. Under Title 13 of the United States Code, census information cannot be shared with other federal agencies including the Internal Revenue Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Central Intelligence Agency, and cannot identify individual responders.
While some minority communities have been hesitant to fill out the census in the past, Madison County residents share a different type of hesitancy. “It’s one of those things where [the feeling is] the government is trying to keep tabs on me,” Madison County Commissioner Jim Hart explained. All the Census Bureau is looking for is how many people live in an area, and an accurate count gives the county an opportunity for extra funding, he said.
Money and representation are the top two reasons Commissioner Hart encouraged people to fill out the census. Without the maximum funding made possible by an accurate count, “we just can’t provide the services that people expect,” like ambulances, fire departments, police departments and schools, he said.
Montana is on the cusp of adding another representative in Congress, which is based on population size. In terms of representation, Commissioner Hart brought up the geographical and social differences that exist across the 147,040 square Montana miles.
“For one representative to cover, its daunting. Its daunting just to cover Beaverhead County or Madison County, much less the entire state,” Commissioner Hart said. “The difference between eastern Montana and western Montana, in one example, is huge.”
The census participation national average is 61.4%. Montana reported a 55% self-response rate, ranking eighth from the bottom for census completion, Gov. Bullock said. He designated $530,000 from the Coronavirus Relief Funds to the Department of Commerce to support census promotion and outreach.
“The funding that we’ll be providing will support the state over the long term and ensure that we can do everything we can to get a complete count and our share of federal funding for the next decade,” Gov. Bullock said. The federal deadline for census completion has been extended to October 31 due to the coronavirus.
Census bureau outreach representatives attended last week’s commissioners’ meeting to provide advice and assistance on how to get the word out about the census. According to a July 28 press release from the Census Bureau, emails are being sent out to households in low-responding areas, less than 50%, to encourage participation. An online link to fill out the census is provided in the email.
Citizens may also provide answers over the phone or fill out the paper form and drop it in a mailbox using the standard method.
Data is expected to be released by the end of 2020.
After press, the Census Bureau announced an earlier end to counting efforts--Sept 30 rather than Oct 31. The Bureau explained this change was part of an effort to meet federal guidlines that require census data to be delivered to the President by the end of year. Only 63% of U.S. households have responded to the census to date, according to the New York Times. The New York Times also reported that ending the count early will force census officials to resort to statistical methods to make educated guesses about households that do not respond.