Every 10 years, the United States counts its population. It’s a big job, given America’s size and diversity. It’s also a requirement, written into the Constitution. And the first count dates back to the first years of our first president in 1790, when U.S. Marshals conducted the census on horseback. It’s carried on once a decade since then, and as the country continues to grow, we have found new ways to ensure that everyone is counted.
The results of the census determine how over $675 billion in federal funding flow into communities every year for the next decade. That funding shapes many different aspects of every community, no matter the size, no matter the location. Yes, this is a national effort, but the impacts to us in North Central Washington are huge. The more people that complete the census, the better the chances we have in getting a proportionate share of those grant funds.
Think of your morning commute: census results influence the construction and maintenance of our state, county, and city roads, as well as grants for buses for Link Transit. Most of the funding for construction of the West Cashmere Bridge, for instance, comes from federal grants. Or think of your local schools: census results help determine how money is allocated for the Head Start program, for grants that support teachers and special education, and for setting the school district boundaries.
The list goes on, including programs to fight coronavirus, to support our homeless, to restore our salmon, to prevent child abuse, to prepare for floods, to perform search and rescue activities and respond to the needs of citizens on federal lands, and to provide housing assistance for older adults. Did you know that census data helps communities respond to natural disasters and secure funding for firefighting? The more people that take the census, the better we are able to respond to natural disasters like the 2015 Sleepy Hollow Fire. It’s that straightforward.
As a whole, Washington state is actually very engaged; it has the highest response rate for any state west of the Rocky Mountains (68.5%, compared to the national average of 63.0%) and has the sixth highest rate for the entire country. Despite the high response rate of our state, NCW counties have poor response rates. As of Aug. 5 just a little over half (54.7%) of Chelan County residents have responded, putting us 25th out of the 39 counties in the State. Okanogan County ranks 37 of 39 counties at about 40%. The top six counties in participation (and therefore the funding) are the state’s urban counties (King, Spokane, Clark, Snohomish, Benton and Thurston). We need to catch up, if we want our share of the funds.
The funding we now get is based on the past census in 2010. Our population has obviously grown since then. So to make sure our communities receive all the funding they should, we need to have every neighborhood counted. To be blunt: we are falling behind on our count, both at the national level and within Washington state. Those communities that take part in the census are those that receive the federal support.
We recognize that some have concerns about privacy and are reluctant to take part. This law protects your answers and ensures that your private information is protected and that your answers cannot be used against you by any government agency or court. You are kept anonymous. The Census Bureau is not permitted to publicly release your responses in any way that could identify you or anyone else in your home.
In 2020, for the first time, we have the option of responding online, in addition to phone and mail. As in previous decades, the census is still mailed to all homes and census takers later walk from door to door to follow-up on residents who have not responded. As you can expect, the coronavirus pandemic has significantly (and negatively) affected the ability for people to participate in the 2020 census — particularly for disadvantaged minorities, who may not have ready access to the internet, or are not readily accessible to door-to-door census takers.
As a result of the pandemic the Census Bureau has extended the response period to Sept. 30. So, now’s the time.
It’s easy — and important. You have three options to take part:
1) Log on to 2020census.gov
2) Call 844-330-2020 for English or 844-468-2020 for Spanish (other languages and TDD access are also available)
3) Mail the questionnaire that you should have received in April.
Chelan County Commission Doug England, Chairman Kevin Overbay Bob Bugert