The 2020 Census is underway, and leaders of the Montezuma County Counts campaign are urging locals to use their increased time at home to complete the survey.
For the first time, the Census is online, providing another avenue for residents to respond, along with phone and snail mail. And the current situation highlights the value of being counted because emergency funding is largely determined by the data, said Cortez Mayor Karen Sheek, who is co-chairing the local campaign.
“Particularly now, one of the ways that emergency and disaster aid is given out is based on Census information,” Sheek said. “The fact that we are going through an emergency right now – we get to live through the kinds of events that the Census can help provide funding for.”
The Census is conducted once a decade to gather population data across the United States. The numbers collected dictate funding allocations and districting for congressional representation.
Specifically, Census data determines funding allocations for services such as affordable housing programs, school lunch programs, Medicaid, roads, parks and trails, economic development and senior supports.
According to the state of Colorado, about $880 billion in federal funding is allocated nationwide based on Census counts. In Colorado, this comes out to about $13 billion annually or an estimated $2,300 per person.
This is the first year that the Census can be taken online, although people can still respond via mail or over the phone.
Officially, Census Day is April 1, but people have more time than that to fill out the surveys – especially now with the coronavirus outbreak. The “self-response” phase will last through Aug. 14, according to the Census website.
Starting in May, Census takers will follow up with residents who haven’t responded.
“The 2020 Census is underway, and the most important thing you can do is respond online, by phone or by mail when you receive your invitation,” the website states. “Responding now will minimize the need for the Census Bureau to send census takers out into communities to follow up.”
Sheek said the coronavirus has positive and negative implications for the local campaign. On the one hand, they are unable to use much of the marketing gear and swag they had ordered – like water bottles and banners for public buildings – but on the other hand, it does mean that people have been trapped at home and have a prime opportunity to fill out the survey.
“It’s really, really easy to take,” Sheek said. “There’s nine questions – one person can do the entire Census for everybody in their household that they’re reporting.”
For those without internet access, there’s also an option to respond over the phone. English-speakers can call 844-330-2020, and Spanish-speakers can call 844-468-2020.
As of March 26, Montezuma County was leading the way in Southwest Colorado in responding to the Census, with a self-response rate of 26.6%, compared with a statewide rate of 31.2%.
In neighboring La Plata County, the rate was 21.8%; in Dolores County, 5.2%; in San Miguel County, 5.1%; and in Archuleta County, 13.5%.
One challenge of conducting the Census is counting hard-to-reach people, like those without a home or in temporary housing. Before the coronavirus outbreak, Montezuma County Counts had plans in place to distribute tablets to local soup kitchens for counting guests, along with ensuring the Cortez Public Library’s computers were set up with Census-taking stations. This is not possible at the moment, due to current closures.
However, The Bridge shelter still hopes to count its present tenants. The shelter on Park Street offers 11 units of transitional housing on its second floor and emergency shelter on its bottom floor. Usually the first floor of the shelter only opens at night, but after the stay-at-home order was issued by the governor, those staying there have remained within The Bridge, said Laurie Knutson, executive director of the site.
Next week, a Census enumerator is expected to come by the shelter and assist with the count, she said.