A 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident, March 19, is shown. (Associated Press)

A 2020 census letter mailed to a U.S. resident, March 19, is shown. (Associated Press)

Editorial: Covid-19 threatens census; you can help fix that

The outbreak’s response has complicated census efforts, making our timely response crucial to its success.

By The Herald Editorial Board

The outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus — and the broad-based response mounted to slow its spread — have been disruptive to nearly everything in the normal course of our lives.

We could list the ways, but everyone is familiar with the changes this has forced.

But the outbreak also is disrupting the plans for the 2020 census, the count of Americans held each decade that serves a number of purposes nationwide but also in our own communities.

Getting an accurate count of Americans has never been simple; a few Americans have always been more than a little suspicious about being asked questions about who lives in their homes and what their ethnicities are, among other basic questions. But this year’s count has been further complicated by the outbreak, hampering the Census Bureau’s usual community outreach efforts to knock on doors and contact those who haven’t completed the census online, by phone or by mail.

Because of the outbreak, census workers are not in the field, and may not be until the bureau is given the all-clear by public health and other government officials in specific communities to continue those outreach efforts.

Which makes it all the more important for those who have received a census invitation to complete and submit it by April 1. Each census questionnaire completed now is one less for which census workers will have to follow up later.

About 95 percent of U.S. households should now have received the invitation by mail asking them to complete the questionnaire by computer or smartphone by going to a Census Bureau website. The questionnaire takes about 10 minutes to complete. Others will receive a mail-in form. Up to four reminders will be sent through April to complete the census.

There may be one plus to the coronavirus outbreak; the efforts of local, state and federal governments and agencies in responding to the crisis show why it’s important to count each member of a community and determine how best to equitably deliver the resources that are supported by our taxes.

Here’s how the information collected by the Census Bureau is used:

An estimated $883 billion in federal funds are distributed annually nationwide. Washington state’s share of that is about $16.7 billion. Those resources are distributed based on the count in each state, supporting more than 50 programs, including Medicaid, highway and transportation funding, federal student loans and Pell Grants, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, business and industry loans, Head Start, homeland security grants, Community Development Block Grants, home loans and housing assistance, crime victim assistance, senior meals, other assistance programs and more.

For every person that the census misses, the state forfeits about $2,200 of that support, support that is derived from the federal taxes we pay.

As with everything above, much of the assistance that is now being voted on in Congress to address the COVID-19 outbreak and its debilitating economic impacts will be distributed based on data from the last census in 2010.

Census numbers also are used to determine representation in Congress. Following the 2010 census, Washington state gained a 10th member of the House of Representatives. The state isn’t expected to gain or lose a congressional seat following this census, but the numbers will be used to draw new district boundaries to reflect changes in population from one district to the next.

The same data also are used in drawing legislative and local governmental districts. And the numbers provide useful information to local governments and businesses as they plan for their communities and serve customers.

But the effectiveness of that data relies on an accurate count during the census. The COVID-19 outbreak has posed a challenge in making that count.

Completing the questionnaire now assures that you and those in your household have been counted and allows census workers to better focus their follow-up efforts.

Make it count

For more information on Census 2020, go to 2020census.gov/.

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