County’s Census response lagging
By Samantha Lyles
When federal government agencies calculate how to fund everything from disaster assistance to infrastructure repairs to free school lunch, the most influential data set they consult is one every American can influence: the Census. And South Carolina could certainly be doing a better job lobbying for our fair share.
As of June 12, the national Census 2020 response rate was 60.7 percent, while South Carolina lagged behind at 55.6 percent. Locally the numbers are even worse, with Darlington County reporting at a rate of 49.3 percent. Broken down by cities, our local soft spots begin to show: Hartsville’s reporting rate is 56.9 percent, Darlington stands at 49.3 percent, Society Hill at 39.1 and Lamar at 38.8 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,” says Marilyn Stephens, Assistant Regional Census Manager. “The more seats a state has, the bigger that state’s voice.”
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.
And 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.
“If you take 100 people that don’t do their Census and turn it in, over 10 years the state loses out on $3 million – that’s a lot of money, and that’s only with 100 people,” S.C. Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette said at a May 13 press conference.
Evette has urged South Carolinians to get with the program and fill out their Census reports, and she’s calling for citizens to participate in the 2020 Census Day of Action on June 17 by filing their forms or urging friends, family and neighbors to complete their own census questionnaires.
Stephens says that even with the COVID-19 pandemic slowing things down, it’s easier than ever to complete your Census forms.
“This is the first time that we’ve had so many options to respond. In 2010, you got a questionnaire, you filled it in and mailed it back to us – that was your one option. In 2020, you can respond online at my2020census.gov,” says Stephens. She adds that the online forms are so quick and easy that one respondent with an 11-member household finished reporting in less than 10 minutes.
You can also complete your Census forms with a phone call to 1-844-330-2020. And, of course, you can fill out the mailed forms and return them in the included postage-paid envelope.
All of these options allow you to “avoid the knock” and avert an in-person interview with a Census worker. In the midst of a contagion, that means a lot, even though Census 2020 workers are outfitted with an array of personal protective equipment to stave off coronavirus infection and spread.
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.
The self-response phase of Census 2020 has been extended to Oct. 31 due to pandemic-related delays. Complete your Census 2020 report online at https://my2020census.gov, complete via phone at 1-844-330-2020, or fill out and return the forms mailed to your home.