This has certainly been an unusual year. Before COVID-19 presented itself, people working to promote the Census knew they had a challenge, but now the situation is more pressing.
The South is lagging behind in the Census count, and we’re going to feel it for the next 10 years if that doesn’t change. As of late April, fewer than half of Alabama households had participated. This could have big consequences in terms of federal funding, because the Census determines how much federal funding we receive for certain programs (transportation, Medicaid, and childcare, to name a few). We could also lose a Congressional seat, meaning our voice might not be as strong in Washington, DC.
That’s the situation statewide, but there is hope. Huntsville and Madison County are actually in the top 100 large cities/counties nationwide in terms of response rates, according to James Vandiver, who works in Huntsville’s Planning Department and is helping to oversee our city’s Complete Count effort. Vandiver said deadlines have been pushed back to give people more time to self-respond. That date was originally April 30, but now, you have until July 31. It takes about 10 minutes – just visit 2020census.gov and type in your address to begin. In August, Census workers will begin to knock on doors.
Vandiver said the City is tracking which areas have had high and low response rates. Hampton Cove, Madison, and South Huntsville have had strong responses, between 70-80 percent, but other areas have had lower responses, including Lowe Mill, Terry Heights, Sparkman Drive, and Edmonton Heights. Those are in the 30 to 40 percent response range.
“Originally, we were planning to hold community events in our low response areas. Now, we’re looking at alternative ways to share the message, that it’s important to respond to the Census,” said Vandiver.
This includes contacting property owners. Some of the low-count areas he mentioned have a lot of rentals, including apartment complexes, so the City is reaching out to owners to urge them to talk with residents about why they need to respond.
Right now, Alabama has seven Congressional districts, with about 700,000 people per district. Other parts of the country have grown more than Alabama in the last 10 years. As population shifts to other areas, so will Congressional representation. Losing a Congressional seat means less representation, which could result in not having a member of Congress on a key committee or not having enough votes to help fund key local federal programs.
“Huntsville is going to be what carries the state,” said Vandiver. “We’re the fastest growing region. This is where the growth is happening, so if we have a good count up here, we have a much better chance of keeping that seventh Congressional district, and the federal funding we would lose. We need to make sure we don’t have an undercount here.”
Companies, Please Help
We are making a strong, specific ask: We need you to hammer the message home with your employees about the Census.
How do you share important news with them? Here are some ideas:
■ Give employees time at work to fill out their Census form
■ Offer assistance pulling up the website, 2020census.gov
■ Include a note with employee paychecks or paystubs
■ Post signs in company breakrooms
■ Share information in company newsletters
■ Share updates on company social media pages
Show us what you’re doing to help spread the word, and we’ll showcase it in our communications. Please email info to firstname.lastname@example.org today.
If you lost your job recently, this is an option for you. The U.S. Census is hiring, and offers temporary positions with flexible hours, a good fit if you’re looking to earn extra money. Visit 2020census.gov/job today.
By Claire Aiello, Vice President, Marketing & Communications
This article appears in the June 2020 issue of Initiatives magazine, a publication of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.