Alabama is running slightly below the national average in response to the 2020 census, state officials said Friday.
Figures through Thursday, April 23, show 50.8% of the Alabama households that were sent questionnaires by the Census Bureau have responded, compared to 52.4 percent nationwide.
Gov. Kay Ivey and other state officials have urged Alabama residents to participate in the census, which is taken every 10 years, because population figures are used to determine the number of members each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the distribution of federal funds to the states.
“We are not lagging that much this year,” said Kenneth Boswell, director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and head of this year’s state census campaign.
The Census Bureau sends requests for information to residences across the nation in mid-March, asking individuals to respond to its questionnaire online, by phone or by mail. Field workers then go to homes that do not self-responded.
Boswell said the next time someone decides to rail at a mayor for not paving a street, the person should likely be blaming himself if his local government does not have the funds. That is, if the person did not complete his census form.
The amount of federal gas tax money apportioned to states, some of which trickles down to cities and counties, is based on federal census numbers, Boswell said
Boswell said Alabama gets an average of $14 billion a year in federal money based on census numbers. Besides money for infrastructure, the state also gets education and healthcare funds based on population.
In 2010, self-responders to the mailed questionnaires accounted for 62.5% of the state count. But overall, only 72% of Alabama residents participated in the 2010 census.
So for this year’s census, the state will stand a chance of losing at least one of its seven seats in the U.S. House of Representatives unless it has at least a 72% response rate. With an even lower rate, the state could lose two House seats.
Under the Constitution, the House is made up of 435 members, with seats apportioned among the states based on their populations. States with population growth stand to gain seats, while those that maintain or lose population compared the previous census can lose representation.
On March 18, the U.S. Census Bureau delayed field operations nationwide because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Field work had been scheduled to begin April 1, but was shifted to June 1, said Mike Presley of ADECA.
Federal officials have asked that the deadlines for census gathering be pushed back three months. That would give field workers until Oct. 31 to complete interviews.
Boswell said he hopes field work can resume June 1.
But Congress has to approve any changes to census deadlines. States normally receive House redistricting census information in March of the year after the census is completed, but if Congress approves the deadline extension Alabama will not know if it is losing congressional seats until July 2021.
Boswell said he has no idea when Congress will respond to the deadline extension request.
At last count, Alabama had 4.8 million people.
If census deadlines are extended, it will necessitate an increase in advertising funds for the state. Boswell’s office is operating under a $3.3 million budget. A million dollars was used to make grants to individual agencies to help with census response.
For instance, homeless residents were counted with help through a grant.
State census officials are looking at problems that arose during the 2010 census, such as getting an accurate count from smaller municipalities in Jefferson County and from pockets of people living in the Black Belt and in some urban areas.
The state through the governor’s office gave the Black Belt Community Foundation $40,000 to provide census awareness through training workshops and events in the organization’s service area. The foundation covers the counties of Sumter, Greene, Hale, Perry, Dallas, Marengo, Wilcox, Lowndes, Choctaw, Washington, Clarke, Macon and Bullock.
About $253,000 in grants came to the Birmingham area, including:
*$10,000 to the Birmingham Public Library for outreach to census participation.
*$40,000 to the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama to partner with other agencies to raise census awareness in the Hispanic and immigrant communities.
*$40,000 to United Way of Central Alabama to increase the self-response rate is its 12-county area.
*$22,686 to the Shelby County Commission to promote awareness in hard-to-reach populations in the county.
*$10,000 to the St. Clair County Commission to raise awareness for residents to fill out their census forms.
Alabama’s self-response rate was 50.1 percent through April 20, with these rates in the Birmingham metropolitan area:
*Jefferson County, 52%.
*Shelby County, 62%.
*Blount County, 51%.
St. Clair County, 54%.
Walker County, 46%.
Shelby County’s response rate of 62% was the highest in the state, followed by Madison County’s 60.8%.
Boswell said that when he was mayor of Enterprise, the city had a 46% to 47% participation rate among its 35,000 citizens. In 2008, he launched a census response campaign that resulted in a 68% to 69% participation rate in the 2010 census.
He said residents should think of the impact that the census numbers will have on their children and grandchildren, and how they will be affected over the next 10 years.
He cited apathy as the reason people do not fill out census forms. “Responding to the census is a right, just like voting is a right,” he said.