Over the last 10 years, Louisa residents may have left significant federal funding on the table simply because they didn’t respond to the United States Census.
These funds could have been used to fix roads, feed families, educate public school students or provide medical care.
In 2010 when the last decennial census was conducted, 75 percent of Louisa residents responded on their own without the help of a census worker, according to Kathleen O’Connell, a U.S. Census Bureau partnership specialist.
Census takers tried to count residents who didn’t respond on their own by visiting them at their homes. But O’Connell said she isn’t sure how many were reached.
When residents aren’t counted in the census, the county misses out on money—not just for one year, but 10 years.
Each year, the federal government puts aside $675 billion to support programs like road construction, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid and, in schools, with Head Start and special education programs, O’Connell told the Louisa County Board of Supervisors at their Jan. 6 meeting.
“Of that $675 billion, in 2016, over $17.7 billion came back to the state of Virginia,” she said.
But how much Louisa gets depends on how many people respond to the census.
“Each person missed represents $2,000 per person, per year,” she said, “so that comes to $20,000 over the course of 10 years that is lost for every person who was not counted. If we miss a family of four, that’s $80,000, so it adds up very, very quickly.”
From 2000 to 2010, Louisa’s population grew from 25,627 residents to 33,153—a whopping 29 percent. In the most recent decade, Louisa grew another 11 percent, according to census data.
“Louisa is growing quite fast. We want to make sure we’re capturing that growth and maximizing the amount of money coming back to provide services,” O’Connell said.
Many of the services census data helps to fund are geared toward vulnerable populations such as children and elderly people, so it’s important to accurately count everyone in the household regardless of age or how they are related. Children are often missed because they share two homes or have alternate living arrangements.
In 2010, the Census Bureau estimated that five percent of children in the U.S. were missed, resulting in nearly one million children not counted for funding. Census data provides a transparent look into the demographics and needs of the community, but only if residents respond.
The data is also used to determine how many seats each state will have in the House of Representatives as well as redistricting, which determines congressional and local boundaries. The data also informs decision making at the local, state and federal levels, helping communities better plan for the future.
Filling out the census form only takes about 10 minutes, depending on the size of the household. The census will ask questions such as the number of people living in the household, the name, age, gender and race of each person, as well as what type of dwelling the household lives in. There are no questions related to citizenship or immigration status.
All of the information collected by the Census Bureau is confidential and protected by law; the bureau is not allowed to share identifying information with local law enforcement or other entities. The census will never ask for income or Social Security numbers.
Starting in March, all households will receive a letter in the mail inviting residents to participate in the census online or over the phone. Additional reminders will be sent to households that do not respond. By the end of April, households the Census hasn’t heard from will receive a paper copy of the questionnaire. In May, Census workers will start visiting households that have yet to respond.
If you need help filling out the census or don’t have access to a computer or internet, the Census Bureau will set up Mobile Questionnaire Assistance locations to assist citizens with electronically filling out responses. The Louisa County Library will be a mobile assistance location and will have census workers and computers on-site.
For job seekers, the Census Bureau is hiring hundreds of census workers to assist with door-knocking and collecting responses in this area. The starting pay rate is $15 per hour. Anyone interested in learning more should visit 2020census.gov.