Opinion: Shape the future of your community, respond to the census

June 17, 2020
Contributed Columns
For InMaricopa

Opinion: Shape the future of your community, respond to the census

This year, Americans have a once-in-a-decade opportunity to participate in one of our government’s most important processes: the census.

The census was established by our founding fathers because they wanted to create a government that represents the people. Census data is used to determine how many seats are needed in the House of Representatives to ensure that the voice of every American is heard.

But an accurate or inaccurate census count can affect almost every aspect of our daily lives.

Census data is used to direct billions in federal funding every year to build and maintain the roads we drive on, the schools our children attend, and the hospitals that provide critical care to our families.

Over 130 government programs use census data to administer funding to the initiatives many Arizona families rely on, including SNAP and Medicaid. Businesses of all sizes use census data to decide where to open and expand, and where to hire new employees. Census data is also used to assist federal agencies and local governments in planning for emergencies like outbreaks and natural disasters and determining where relief is needed most.

As our nation responds to the coronavirus pandemic, we have seen the very real dangers of inadequate allocations of funding to our communities. For example, only two of Arizona’s 15 counties received initial federal assistance under the CARES Act to deal with the negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Currently, the First District is reporting far below state and national averages for census response rates, at around only 38% of households responding—the lowest in Arizona. For every 1% of the population that goes uncounted, our growing state stands to lose out on millions in much-needed funding over the next decade.

For rural and tribal communities, responding to the census is even more important. These communities are far too often underrepresented and stand to gain the most from the funds, grants, and programs made possible by an accurate census count.

Tribal and rural communities also experience the most significant barriers to responding to the census. This spring, the coronavirus pandemic has complicated many of these existing barriers.

To account for the disproportionate challenges faced by underrepresented communities, census workers across our district are readjusting their plans and timelines to get every Arizonan counted safely. They are distributing census packets to homes on the Navajo Nation and other tribal communities, and to families throughout rural Arizona that do not typically receive mail at their physical address. Census takers have also made additional adjustments to their operations, like planning to count Americans experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity this fall and expanding outreach communications to include 45 different languages.

This year, more families than ever before can get counted safely from home by responding to the census by mail, over the phone, or online. The U.S. Census Bureau has extended this year’s response deadline to October.

You still have time to participate.

Your response to the census will shape the future of our local communities, our state, and our country. Join me in making sure Arizona’s First Congressional District gets counted.

Tom O’Halleran is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. A Democrat, he lives in the Village of Oak Creek.