By Samantha Lyles
The clock is winding down on the 2020 Census, and officials continue to stress that Darlington County’s chance to secure a bigger slice of federal funding depends on how many residents complete their surveys.
As of the first week in August, Darlington County’s report rate has finally broken the halfway mark, with 50.2 percent of households accounted for. Though this shows some progress, we trail both the state average of 57 percent and the national average of 63 percent by a significant margin.
While Hartsville (57 percent) and Darlington (55 percent) have picked up the pace, some areas of the county continue to lag behind – namely Society Hill and Lamar, with reporting rates just over 40 percent.
If our Census 2020 reporting does not accurately reflect our area’s population, demographics, and needs, the negative impact will be felt for the next decade through a variety of missed opportunities and lessened influence in Washington.
“Most people don’t realize that the primary reason we conduct a Census is for apportionment, to determine the number of seats that each state will have of the 435 in Congress,” Marilyn Stephens, assistant regional Census manager, tells the News & Press. “The more seats a state has, the bigger that state’s voice.”
When it comes to the Census, every response matters. Each time a person files a census survey, it translates to about $3,000 for South Carolina in federal funding.
Stephens says that Census numbers help guide disbursement of over $675 billion in annual resources allocated by the federal government based on population. Over a decade, that adds up to more than $7 trillion for highway construction, Medicare and Medicaid, community health centers and rural hospitals, emergency preparedness and disaster response, free and reduced school lunch programs, early childhood education, and over 50 other federal programs.
Stephens says that in addition to being important and easy, the Census is uniquely confidential and all data collected is protected against misuse, even by those at the highest levels of government.
“That’s the No. 1 question we get: Is anything I put on those forms going to be used against me? And the answer is no,” says Stephens. “Census data cannot be subpoenaed by the courts, cannot be gotten by the president, cannot be gotten by me.”
She explains that Census data is protected by Title 13 and Title 44 of the United States Code. Title 13 dictates that the Census Bureau can only publish data it receives in statistical or tabulation form, with no individual, household, or establishment identified by name.
Also under Title 13, all Census employees have “lifetime sworn status,” forbidding them from ever revealing any Census data on pain of imprisonment and heavy fines. These laws also prohibit any entity or agency – including federal intelligence and law enforcement – from obtaining Census data.
Please bear in mind that fraudsters are always a danger, and genuine U.S. Census employees will never ask for your full Social Security number, your bank account or credit card numbers, money or donations, or anything on behalf of a political party.
As of last week, the Census Bureau announced that the counting deadline, previously set at Oct. 31, would be moved forward to Sept. 30. This means all door-knocking, phone calls, and mail requests will be cut short by a full month, increasing the danger that rural residents, renters, immigrants, and people of color (groups with historically low reporting rates) may not be accurately enumerated.
There is still time to respond to the 2020 Census online at https://my2020census.gov, complete via phone at 1-844-330-2020, or fill out and return the forms mailed to your home.