William Pitt, NCLM PresidentCouncil Member, Washington, NC
Through the remainder of this year and into 2020, North Carolina municipalities will be engaged in helping assist one of the most important functions affecting their future, the 2020 U.S. Census count.
Officially, the job of counting the U.S. population falls to the U.S. Census Bureau. But individual towns and cities, elected and appointed municipal officials, and community partners have a multitude of reasons to be fully involved in assisting the Census Bureau in getting an accurate count.
For starters, more than 100 federal programs use the data collected during census counts in formulas used to distribute federal tax dollars back out to North Carolina communities. By one estimate, $1,623 in annual federal tax outlays per person in North Carolina rely on the census count. They include programs like Community Development Block Grants, highway planning and construction dollars, Title 1 grants to schools, Medicaid and Medicare Part B.
In turn, some state programs also rely on that same data in how they distribute dollars.
And how that data is used does not stop with federal and state program distributions. It can help determine things like how we plan for natural disasters and proceed with economic development planning. Private sector businesses also use the data as they determine how and where to invest to reach potential customers.
Finally, census counts become critical in our political representation, determining total congressional representation and influencing how districts are drawn. In taking the 2000 Census, North Carolina received an additional congressional seat based on a margin of less than 1,000 residents.
So, that is what is at stake for your city or town. But how can you help to get the count right?
First, it is important to remember that no one has a better understanding of your community than you – the local elected and appointed officials who are already so involved in providing services to residents. You already have contacts with them – through utility services and billings, through community events, through planning and building inspection services, and through your individual efforts to engage with them on a regular basis. No one has a better idea of where hard-to-count populations are likely to reside. No one knows better the community partners – the churches, the charitable and social organizations, and the businesses – that can assist in reaching out to residents to educate them and encourage their participation.
And as online responses will be relied on more than ever, you know the areas where broadband access is limited and could pose challenges. To bridge the digital divide, some local governments plan to set up kiosks at different locations so that residents can complete and submit their responses online.
With that knowledge and those contacts, many cities, towns and counties are forming local Complete Count Committees. If you have not done so, you can reach out to the state Complete Count Commission, with information found at https://ncadmin.nc.gov/about-doa/boardsand-commissions/nc-completecount-commission, or contact your Census Bureau Partnership Specialist, to find the resources to set up your own committee.
But even if you don’t wish to take that step, there are plenty of resources to be found at www.census.gov/2020census, from print materials to social media posts, that you can use to help encourage participation and educate citizens.
With so much on the line, we all need to do our part.