Don’t forget: It’s time to complete the 2020 Census

As the COVID-19 pandemic dominates the majority of news coverage, Shelby County leaders want to remind residents that the 2020 Census is currently available to complete.

Shelby County Chief Operating Officer Phil Burns said getting an accurate count is always a challenge, but this time around even more so because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

“It will definitely be a challenge to overcome these various obstacles,” Burns said. “I think we’re behind where we wanted to be at this point. There’s are a lot of commotion related to the Coronavirus and with schools being out.”

The U.S. Census Bureau will periodically send out reminder letters in the mail to those who have not completed the census until April 27. Paper questionnaires will also be mailed on April 27. From May 13 to July 31, Census Bureau employees will begin going door-to-door to homes that have not completed the census. On Dec. 31, census results will be delivered to the president.

However, the Census Bureau is currently shut down and isn’t expected to reopen until sometime in April. There’s been no word yet about the timeline being delayed, Burns said.

The counting of each person living in the United States happens every 10 years and the data is used to help direct more than $675 billion in federal funding for schools, infrastructure and more. Census data is also used by businesses, government entities and civic groups to help guide decision making.

Each county resident counted is worth about $1,567 in federal and state funds that are allocated based on population.

“An accurate count is very important,” Burns said. “This is going to stay with us for 10 years. Ask your friends and neighbors if they’ve completed the census. Sometimes it’s the people closest to you who haven’t done it yet. Since we’re all encouraged to stay at home and we’re not meeting in person anymore, you can reach out to people through social media.”

In 2010, Shelby County and two other counties logged the highest Census participation in the state with 80 percent of people taking part. This time around, Shelby County leaders have set a goal to have 90 percent participation.

A new feature on 2020census.gov shows the current national, state and county response rates, which allows people to track the percentage of residents in their state and county who have completed the Census.

As of Friday, March 27, Alabama had a total self-response rate of 29.5 percent, which was slightly above the national self-response rate at 28.1 percent. Shelby County has a self-response rate of 35.8 percent.

Although Shelby County is ahead of the state and national self-response percentages, all other counties in Alabama must also do their part. Various think tank organizations have projected that Alabama will lose a congressional seat as a result of the 2020 count.

Historically, certain populations have proved difficult to count. People who fall into the “hard to count” category include children under 5 years old, veterans, people with disabilities, the homeless, those living in rural areas, low income and underserved people, senior citizens, migrant farm workers, immigrants, people with limited English proficiency, renters and those living in gated communities.

Census data is confidential and residents’ information is not shared with any other branch of government or department. The Census Bureau also cannot receive information about residents from other government departments. Violating privacy laws could result in up to five years in jail and fines up to $250,000.

The Census is now easier to complete than ever before because residents are able to complete the form online at 2020census.gov. Residents are still be able to complete the task by phone and by mail.