By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Federal census counting efforts will now end Sept. 30, about four weeks earlier than originally scheduled, and with Alabama’s response rate not where officials would like it to be, leaders are stressing the need for Alabamians to respond now.
Currently, Alabama has a 60.6% self-response rate but census officials say that is not enough to hold on to critical federal funding or even a congressional seat.
“If we finished at this level today, we would likely lose a congressional representative, not to mention a share of critical federal funding that supports important programs like school lunches, roads and infrastructure, SNAP, health care and education,” Mike Presley, the director of communications for Alabama’s Department of Economic and Community Affairs, told Alabama Daily News.
U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham announced the change this week saying the bureau wanted to accelerate the completion of data collection to meet the federal deadline in order to get the final numbers to President Donald Trump by Dec. 31.
The census is constitutionally required to count all U.S. residents every 10 years.
Critics of the deadline change say it will not allow for an accurate counting of hardest-to-reach residents and would give political advantage to Republicans during congressional redistricting.
Many ethnic minority groups, immigrants and lower-income people are among the most undercounted in censuses.
According to the Leadership Conference Education Fund, 26.4% of Alabama’s Black community, 22.8% of Alabama’s Hispanic community and 17.2% of children under the age of five live in hard-to-count areas of Alabama.
Census counting was originally meant to be finished by the end of July, but because of the challenges faced from the coronavirus pandemic, the deadline was pushed to Oct. 31.
Presley said the state hopes to see the self-response rate increase over the coming weeks and is aiming for as close to 100% participation as possible.
Starting next week, the Census Bureau will be sending workers door-to-door to follow up with Alabama households that have not self-responded yet, Presley said.
“The workers are equipped with personal protective gear and have been trained to maintain social distance and to adhere to state and local safety guidelines,” Presley said. “Workers will begin visits next week and continue until Sept. 30. Alabamians who wish to avoid a visit are advised to self-participate in the 2020 Census.”
Gov. Kay Ivey is also urging any Alabamian who hasn’t filled out the census form to do so immediately.
“Alabama, if you still need to fill out your 2020 Census, do not put it off any longer,” Ivey said in an emailed statement. “The absolute last day to be counted has been moved up to the end of September, but despite what our national deadline is, today is the day to complete your 2020 Census in Alabama.”
Presley said ADECA was issuing two final initiatives in order to encourage Alabamians to self-report.
“Drop Everything, Be Counted Day” for Alabama businesses is Aug 12.
There will also be an “Alabama Census Bowl” which will be a competition among the 32 counties with the lowest self-response rate to date. The county that raises its rate the most can win up to $65,000 in funds to benefit public K-12 schools.
Alabamians can fill out their census form on my2020census.gov, by phone at 844-330-2020 or by returning the paper form by mail.