Local leaders urge community-wide involvement in census
School lunches. Highways. Firefighters. Families in need. According to the official website of the 2020 Census, its results affect communities every day.
Roughly half of all Americans have responded to the census to date. Hartselle is leading the nation by more than 10 percentage points, at 60.1 percent as of April 20. Morgan County sits at 55.1 percent of residents self-responding.
That’s a figure local leaders want to see increase.
Required by the U.S. Constitution, the census, taken every 10 years, provides critical data that lawmakers, business owners, teachers and others use to provide daily services, products and support to individuals and the community as a whole. Every year, billions of dollars in federal funding go to hospitals, fire departments, schools, roads and other resources based on census data.
Missy Evans, executive director of the Hartselle Area Chamber of Commerce, said Hartselle and Morgan County will feel the trickle-down effects of inaccurate census results in more ways than one.
“In 2016 there were 55 different programs that received federal funding, and a third of those programs are grants that benefit us locally – mostly our school system,” she said.
What’s more, Evans said accurate results are vital to business growth because many economic grants – grants that help small business owners and educate a workforce – are often decided by using the census.
Page BreakIn addition to funding, Evans said an accurate population record is important for fair representation and invaluable data her organization uses in its day-to-day operations.
According to 2020census.gov, the results of the census determine the number of seats each state will have in the U.S. House of Representatives and are used to draw congressional and state legislative districts.
According to a report published in November 2019 by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, the state runs the risk of losing a congressional seat after the 2020 Census, which would mean less representation for Alabama in Washington D.C., a loss of one electoral vote in presidential elections and a potential cut in federal funding.
Chambers of commerce also rely on accurate data from the Census, data including population and demographics,
“The data helps us drive local business expansion and gives us the ability to entice investors into our region,” Evans said. “With it, we’re able to show them what kind of people live here, their educational level and where we’re projecting growth. It also helps businesses identify their business strategies because they’ll have demographic information available.”
Receiving enough funding is also crucial to infrastructure development, Evans added.
“Federal funding directly affects community enhancement, workforce and infrastructure development – three aspects of the Chamber’s goal of enticing newcomers and industry to the area,” she said.
Evans added she believes Hartselle residents will do their part by completing the 2020 Census.
“I think for Hartselle, our goal doesn’t need to be on par with Morgan County or the state,” Evans said. “We need to do more. Our community is full of active, involved and interested people … We are pace setters and need to make up for those who don’t have the ability to participate,” she said.
Mayor Randy Garrison agreed Hartselle being represented accurately in the 2020 Census is vital to the city’s continued growth and improvement. “This could have a domino effect in either direction,” he said.
Garrison noted the city street department is currently working on a federally-funded project refurbishing sewer lines. “It’s a $450,000 project, and those funds will also enable us to tackle the Highway 31 and Vaughn Bridge Road project once its approved at the state and federal levels,” he said.
Garrison said federal funds that pay for street projects and Community Development Block Grants effect the community as a whole and the everyday lives of people who call Hartselle home. He said having an inaccurate count of people and rooftops in Hartselle could negatively affect sales tax monies and jobs that come to Hartselle.
Garrison and Evans agree: participation in the 2020 Census will help Hartselle continue to grow and prosper for the next decade.
Not only does the 2020 Census affect the business community and City of Hartselle; the number of federal dollars that benefit students in Hartselle are tied to an accurate count of the local and statewide population. Superintendent Dr. Dee Dee Jones said every federal dollar Hartselle City School receives is put to good use.
“For the school system, the most important reason to fill out the census is because that number directly effects the federal funding we receive,” she said. “Every dime is important; that federal money pays for additional teachers for both Crestline and F.E. Burleson elementary schools and for reading coaches and instructional support personnel.”
Jones added the U.S. Census Bureau has provided HCS with resources that will help get out the word to parents about the importance of filling out the 2020 Census.
“We plan to push it and remind everyone to fill it out during the month of May,” she said. “It only takes five to 10 minutes and can be done online. Everyone counts, so it’s vital that everyone is counted.”
The novel coronavirus that has caused a worldwide pandemic has left little untouched, and the 2020 Census is not immune.
According to its website, the Census bureau has altered its schedule and deadlines in light of the health crisis.
“The U.S. Census Bureau is adjusting 2020 Census operations in order to: protect the health and safety of the American public and Census Bureau employees; implement guidance from federal, state and local authorities regarding COVID-19; and ensure a complete and accurate count of all communities,” the website reads.
A full list of adjusted deadlines and a report on the ways census data is used can be found online at 2020census.gov.