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Census responses have great impact on local community

By Victoria Lowe Hicks



Would you trade 10 minutes of your time for more than $18,000? What if those 10 minutes would mean that your children’s school could hire the additional teachers and install the protective equipment it needs to reopen safely? Or that your EMS department got to buy a badly needed new ambulance?


Or that your medical clinic could do more to help people addicted to opioids? Or that the county transportation department could schedule additional trips to get you where you need to go?


Money to do all those things – and dozens of others that determine what it is like to live here in Mitchell and Yancey counties – depends on how many people complete the census. For every resident that fails to answer the simple questionnaire, the county will lose more than $1,800 a year for the next 10 years, or a total of more than $18,000.


“Our federal and state grants both are allocated by the census,” said Sheila Blalock, director of transportation for Mitchell County. “Our funding is not based on performance but on population.”


Jeff Howell, Yancey County Director of Emergency Services, said the census also effects COVID-19 funding.


“The census affects every aspect of public service,” he said. “The more folks we have living and working in Yancey County determines the number of ambulances, EMS workers and fire departments that are needed.”


In addition, the Dogwood Health Trust is offering counties in Western North Carolina $1,000 for every percentage point increase in census participation above the level of 2010.


And here’s another reason to either mail in the paper form, answer the questions by phone or complete the census online: If you don’t, a census taker will come to your house. If you’re like most people, that’s something you’d like to avoid.


Perhaps you don’t like to share information about yourself with government agencies. That’s understandable. But, by law, that information can be used only to compile the huge, anonymous sets of numbers that determine how money and political representation are distributed.


It is a crime for any census employee to share information about any person with another individual or group, even within the government. That includes law enforcement, the IRS or the immigration service. A census employee who breaks the law can be fined up to $250,000 and go to prison for as long as five years.


At last count, the response rate in both Mitchell and Yancey counties was lower than in the state or nation as a whole. As a result, people in our counties pay state and federal taxes at the same rates that people in other places do but they receive fewer benefits in return. In addition, because census numbers are used to determine how many federal and state representatives each area gets, our counties have less political clout than they deserve.


You can respond to the census online at my2020census.gov, by phone at 844-330-2020 or by returning the questionnaire mailed to your home to the U.S. Census Bureau National Processing Center at 100 Logistics Avenue, Jeffersonville, Indiana 47144.


The census form asks basic questions including home many people live in the home, how they are related to each other, whether you own or rent the home, the type of home you live in and names, birth dates and races for those living in the home.


There is not a question regarding citizenship.


The census happens every 10 years, meaning it will not come up again until

2030.


Victoria Loe Hicks is a retired journalist living in Mitchell County. She is a member of a SEARCH Outreach effort to encourage people to complete the census.

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