Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a population count of everyone living in the United States. Responses to the census determine how billions of dollars of federal funds are allocated to states and local communities for essential services such as hospitals, emergency and disaster response, and schools and education programs.

By now, most Benton and Tippah County residents have received at least one census form by mail. A second questionnaire and a postcard reminder were mailed last month to those who have not responded.

“Because the census only occurs once every 10 years, most people don’t remember it from decade to decade,” said US Census representative Marilyn Stephens.

Stephens noted that section one, article two of the US Constitution outlines the importance of the census.

“The primary reason for taking a census is for apportionment. We take it to determine the number of seats that each state will get in congress. And of course, the more representatives the state has the bigger that state’s voice is. Then, the secondary reason that has happened in modern time is for resources.” Stephens said that the federal government allocates $675 billion in essential resources based on population number.

Some of those essential resources are emergency management, community health centers, hospitals, playgrounds, supplemental poverty measures like SNAP and WIC, affordable housing, early head start and head start programs, Pell Grants, services for seniors, and veteran services.

“Population and numbers are key.  If, in fact, households choose not to be counted in the census, then over a decade that community could really lose a lot of essential services and resources.”

Responding to the census ensures your community gets the resources it needs. This year people have more options than ever to respond.

“It’s almost like an anywhere, anytime census,” continued Stephens. “I can respond online or I can call a toll free number and respond by phone with a representative. When I get a paper questionnaire I can respond by mail.”

Stephens said responding online is simple and takes 10 minutes or less.

“The number of people that are responding online is a very high number. So far, 54.3 percent of the households nationwide have responded to the census.”

So far, 50.1 percent of Mississippians have responded. Of that, 31.7 percent have responded online. In Tippah County, 48.3 percent have responded with 17.5 percent responding online. Benton County has seen a 44.5 percent response rate with 17.9 percent of that online.

“We have a partnership team there in Mississippi. The local government and the community organizations, the educational institutions, the faith-based institutions, the business community, and the state have been major partners in the census and it shows in these great response rates.”

The census had to pause its door-to-door operation because of COVID-19. Stephens said that there is a small percent of households that have not received a census form.

“We hope to very soon go back into the field to hand-deliver because they have received nothing from us. We will leave their questionnaire at their door. They’ll still have the option of going online, calling the toll free number or mail back the questionnaire.”

When responding to the census, people should include everyone who usually lives and sleeps in their homes as of April 1, 2020. This includes relatives, friends, roommates, children, babies born on or before April 1, and any others. If college students have moved home due to campus closures, they should be counted where they usually live during the school year.

Stephens says the census questions are simple. “We ask for your name. How many people live in your household? We do ask for your telephone number, and the reason we ask is because if we need to call you back to ask a question, we don’t have to come to your door to do that. We don’t use it with telemarketing or anything else.

“We also asked if the home or the apartment is owned or rented, with or without a mortgage or with or without rent. We ask you if you are Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino, and if you check yes, there are other options. We ask what is your race.”

This year there is an option to put the country of origin also. “So if you check white and you have Irish ancestry, you may put that. If your black, and you are Nigerian, Somali, Haitian, Jamaican, Honduran, Ghanian, or some other country of African ancestry, you’ll be able to put that. That’s historic. You haven’t had that before.”

“We’re urging households to complete the census now. We don’t want to have to come to knock on the door for those households that have yet to respond. That is why we want everybody to self respond.”

To fill out your census online, go to my2020census.gov or call toll free  at 1-844-330-2020 and complete by phone with a representative.

All responses to the census are kept confidential and are used only to produce statistics. By law, responses cannot be shared with law enforcement, IRS, CIA, FBI, or immigration agencies and cannot be subpoenaed by the courts.

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