Why you should fill out the census

Published 10:22 am Thursday, March 26, 2020

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The 2020 Census is both a chance to determine the U.S. population and an opportunity to bring billions of dollars in funding back to the nation’s communities.

Tasha Chambers, media specialist for the Philadelphia Region of the U.S. Census Bureau, helped to answer The Dispatch’s questions about the 2020 Census, including such subjects as online completion, home visitation, citizenship and financial impact to the state.

According to Chambers, the census counts everyone who lives in the U.S., and response to the census shapes many decisions about how public funds are spent for schools, fire and emergency services and healthcare for communities.

More than $675 billion in federal funding will be distributed annually to communities based on the census’ results. The census also determines how many seats Virginia will get in the U.S. Congress.

The U.S. Census Bureau, Chambers said, is making the census even easier to fill out this year by giving people the option to respond online or via smartphone.

Individuals can visit 2020census.gov to complete the census online. However, those that choose to respond online must complete the census in one sitting. They will not have the ability to save progress. People can also fill out the census by mail or a phone call.

Chambers also said that a census taker will only arrive at someone’s door if they have not responded to several letters. Invitations to go online and fill out the census form will be distributed via mail March 12 through March 20. A reminder letter will then go out between March 16 and March 24, and a third reminder letter will be sent March 26 through April 3. A fourth reminder letter containing a paper questionnaire will go out in the mail April 8 through April 16, and a final postcard will go out April 20 through April 27.

“Beginning in late April, a census taker will visit your home if you have not completed the form,” Chambers said. “We strongly encourage you to respond immediately as soon as you get the first invitation.”

Chambers told The Dispatch that individuals do not have to be a U.S. citizen in order to fill out the census form, and that the form does not inquire about citizenship. She stressed that everyone living in the country and its five territories should be counted whether they are citizens or not.

“Citizens of foreign countries who are living in the U.S. during the 2020 Census, including members of the diplomatic community, should be counted at the U.S. residence where they live and sleep most of the time on April 1,” she said.

Although many people may question the importance of filling out the census, Chambers emphasized that every individual who fills out the census has a financial impact. It is estimated that for every person who doesn’t fill out the 2020 Census, Virginia will lose $20,000 over 10 years until the 2030 Census. That $20,000 loss could be especially harmful to smaller, rural counties.

“Now more than ever, an online or phone response is a great way to support our communities and limit physical contact during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Chambers said.