Wednesday was Census Day – a reference date, not a deadline – and La Plata County is slowly making progress on the 2020 census count, despite nationwide coronavirus-related delays.
The U.S. Census Bureau has delayed or extended most of its operations for counting the U.S. population. The process determines how about $880 billion federal dollars are allocated. About 29.5% of La Plata County residents had completed the count as of Tuesday – a start, but fewer than state and national responses.
“In all that is going on, the every-10-years census is getting lost in the shuffle. It is important, even in trying times, for people to respond,” said Tim Walsworth, co-chairman of the county’s Complete Count Committee.
Colorado, with 40.3% responses, receives about $13 billion in funds informed by the count, equating to about $2,300 per person. The national response rate is 38.4%.
As of Tuesday, Durango and Bayfield led the county, with responses of 38.8% and 30.9%, respectively. The response rates in Ignacio and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe were far fewer, with 5.5% and 7.5%, respectively.
Community members have until Aug. 14 to complete the 10-question survey either by phone, paper form or, for the first time, online. Responses are required by law.
The count, first conducted in 1790, is mandated in the Constitution. It affects representation in the Colorado Legislature and Congress and informs funding for more than 100 types of programs, such as Medicaid, Head Start, and food and affordable housing assistance.
“It is essential to get an accurate count to ensure adequate representation and appropriate funding for important education, environmental and law enforcement programs,” wrote Lindsay Box, Southern Ute Indian Tribe spokeswoman.
“Since population is linked to federal funding, the more people that get counted the more resources are available to our community in many important contexts, including emergency response,” said Megan Graham, La Plata County spokeswoman and member of the Complete Count Committee.
San Juan Basin Public Health said about $1.5 million of its budget originates from federal funding based on the count, including funding for emergency preparedness.
Delayed responseIn response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Census Bureau delayed eight of 12 current operations, including the time frame for when census workers will visit people’s homes.
An Associated Press analysis indicated that states, including some in the Rocky Mountains, could face recruitment challenges because of the coronavirus.
“Since census 2020 field operations have been suspended at least until April 15 due to the COVID outbreak, there is a concern of an undercount,” said Claire Ninde, SJBPH spokeswoman.
Some populations can fall through the cracks more easily, especially those who are more transient, like college students and people experiencing homelessness. Renters and rural residents are also harder to count.
The La Plata County Complete Count Committee, which is made up of about 20 organizations, is focused on getting the word out through advertising and marketing.
City of Durango staff is helping by supplying address information for census enumerators, said Mitchell Carter, acting communications manager.
Anyone passing through downtown Durango might have noticed the giant “Your Response Matters!” banner hanging across Main Avenue.
“The current COVID-19 emergency is a prime example as to why it is so important to get an accurate population count during the census,” Carter said.
A five-minute formGraham said she’s done it.
It took “literally five minutes, if that,” she said. “It was super quick and very painless.”
Residents can access the online form through the 2020 census website or respond by phone, both available in 13 languages.
Some community members have expressed concern about data privacy and confidentiality, Graham said.
If census workers break their oaths to keep information private, they can be imprisoned or fined. The Census Bureau assures that no other federal agency can access census data.
The Southern Ute government emphasized that census workers should follow tribal protocol when coming onto the reservation and report immediately to Box or designated staff.
“Now is a great time to get this done. ... It informs decisions for the next 10 years,” Walsworth said. “For families, turn it into a civics lesson with your kids, have them help you fill it out.”