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Census takers to start visiting Fort Dodge homes

-Messenger photo illustration by Kelby Wingert The U.S. Census Bureau mailed out paper questionnaires to homes that had not yet responded to the 2020 census in mid-April. People can also respond to the census online or over the phone.

It comes around once a decade and its impact is felt over the following 10 years.

It’s the U.S. Census, the constitutional mandate to count each and every person in the United States that determines things like congressional representation and federal funding. Households have been receiving information and reminders in the mail over the past several months to fill out the online self-response questionnaire.

It’s important to answer the census questions to be sure every person is counted, said Maureen Schriner, a media specialist for the U.S. Census Bureau’s Chicago region.

“You want your community to get your fair share of the billions of dollars of federal funding that is tied to census data,” she said. “It could be funding for highways, funding for job training or emergency services.”

The census data is also used to determine congressional and legislative districts at the federal, state and local levels.

“Your community gets defined for the next 10 years with census data,” Schriner said.

Currently, Webster County has a 66% response rate to the 2020 Census. For the 2010 Census, 71% of the households in the county self-reported for the count.

Fort Dodge has a 64% response rate and statewide, nearly 69% of Iowa households have responded to the census.

Starting next month, community members working as census takers will begin to visit households that have yet to self-respond to collect responses in person.

“When they do that, we want people to please open the door and respond to them when they’re asking you these questions,” Schriner said.

Census takers will be following public health and safety measures like masks and social distancing to protect against COVID-19, she said. They will not be entering homes.

The census takers will be local community members and they will be clearly identified with badges when they start going door-to-door.

Schriner said that when census takers stop at a home and no one answers the door, they will leave information letting the household know that they stopped by and that the household can still complete the online response form.

“We really want to have a complete and accurate count, so we may continue to visit that household or we’ll try to get the household information from a neighbor,” she said.

While the U.S. Census Bureau’s goal is to receive a 100% response rate to the census, it rarely does. In 2010, the state of Iowa’s response rate was 73%.

There are many hard-to-count populations that the Census Bureau has a difficult time locating, including highly-mobile people, racial and ethnic minorities, non-English speakers, undocumented immigrants, people who distrust the government, people with mental or physical disabilities, people who are homeless and more.

“Another area that has been historically under-counted has been people with low income,” Schriner said.

In 2010, the most under-counted group was children under the age of five, she said. If a child was born on or before April 1, 2020, they should be counted with the 2020 census.

There’s still time to complete the online self-response questionnaire, Schriner said.

“It will be less likely for a census taker to come to your house if you do self-respond,” she said.

The questions on the census are very basic, asking for the name, sex, race and age of each member of the household, and doesn’t take very long to complete.

“Most households can finish in about 10 minutes,” Schriner said.

There are multiple ways to self-respond to the 2020 Census: online at 2020census.gov, on the paper questionnaire mailed to some households in April or over the phone at 844-330-2020. The phone lines are open from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. CDT, seven days a week.

The U.S. Census Bureau also has resources for people with disabilities and non-English speakers on its website 2020census.gov.

Households have until Oct. 31 to respond to the 2020 Census.

Current response rates

State of Iowa — 69%

Webster County — 66%

Buena Vista — 68%

Calhoun County — 64%

Hamilton — 68%

Humboldt — 67%

Kossuth — 69%

Palo Alto — 63%

Pocahontas — 64%

Sac — 63%

Wright — 62%

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