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It’s too important: Residents urged to self-respond to 2020 Census

If you are a student looking for scholarships, the census is important to you.

If you are a parent whose child depends on public education, and the funding public education receives, the census is important to you.

If you are a resident of a city who relies on the safety and security that city services provide, the census is important to you.

With less than five weeks left to self-report information to the 2020 census, Mississippi and Warren County remain well behind where it should be. In doing so, the lack of response is putting at risk crucial federal dollars and key representation in the federal government.

“Over the next decade, lawmakers, business owners, and many others will use 2020 Census data to make critical decisions. The results will show where communities need new schools, new clinics, new roads, and more services for families, older adults, and children,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau. “The results will also inform how hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding are allocated to more than 100 programs, including Medicaid, Head Start, block grants for community mental health services, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP.”

As of Thursday, just 59 percent of households in Mississippi had self-reported to the census, while Warren County was slightly better at 60.4 percent. In 2010, during the last census, 61.5 percent of Warren County households self-reported.

September 30 marks the final day for residents to self-report to the census, but Marilyn Stephens, the assistant regional census manager for the 2020 Census for the Atlanta Region, said that date does not mark the end of the work.

“Most people don’t realize that we must account for 100 percent of the households. We have to account for them through either self-response or non-response follow-up,” Stephens said. “Every non-responsive household has to be accounted for.”

She said the easiest and most effective way to complete the census is for residents to self-respond, either through a paper questionnaire or through my2020census.gov, which is the quickest way to do so.

For those households that do not respond, the census uses a multi-pronged approach to account for those in the household, whether it be through phone calls or personal visits to the home, where reminders are left multiple times before moving on to the next attempt.

“After we leave reminders and fail to get anyone to respond at the door, next time we are going to go to your neighbor and do what we call a proxy interview, where we ask your neighbor, ‘Do you know the people next door?’ and they are going to say, ‘Oh, yes, been knowing them for years,’” Stephens said. “And, depending on what relationship you have with your neighbors, they are going to tell us everything we need to know.”

She said officials may go to building managers, or even homeowners associations to gather information, before moving on to other administrative records.

“But we really want people to self-respond and include everyone who lives in their household. We need everyone to understand what the census means to their everyday life. It is so crucial,” she said.

Due to the slow response rate in Mississippi and Warren County, local officials have redoubled advocacy efforts to encourage residents to participate.

“Like no other time in our lifetime or even our parents’ lifetime has the census been more important. As a county supervisor and in uncertain times it is apparent that the aid we are receiving today — a lot of the aid — is directly tied to our population here in Warren County,” District 3 Supervisor Shawn Jackson said. “The census is so very important because none of us could have forecasted this global pandemic and you don’t know what’s in the next 10 years, but even the day-to-day support that we received from the federal government without a COVID-19 pandemic is the support that’s based on the census.”

Even after all the work by census workers to account for every household, the census accounted for a little less than 92 percent of households in the state, one of the lowest results in the nation.

In the last update, Claiborne County had a 46.9 percent self-response rate, while Yazoo County was at 54.1 percent. Issaquena (33.1 percent) and Sharkey counties (46.8) were also lagging well behind the state overall.

For information on the census, or to self-respond for your household, visit mycesus2020.gov. Mississippi residents can also find out information specific to Mississippi, and also self-respond, at mscensus.org.

About Tim Reeves

Tim Reeves, and his wife Stephanie, are the parents of three children, Sarah Cameron, Clayton and Fin, who all attend school in the Vicksburg Warren School District. The family are members of First Baptist Church Vicksburg. Tim is involved in a number of civic and volunteer organizations including the United Way of West Central Mississippi and serves on the City of Vicksburg's Riverfront Redevelopment Committee.

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