MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE — The U.S. Census is a year away, but plans to educate and recruit local residents to complete it are underway.
John Cummings, a census partnership specialist, gave presentations at the Feb. 26 Independence City Council meeting and at the March 5 Monmouth City Council meeting.
He acknowledged, at both meetings, that a new question about citizenship is causing concern for some people.
“I’m not allowed to have an opinion on whether it should be there or not,” Cummings said to the Monmouth council. “If it is there, I think it’s going to present a challenge because we know that there are members of the community that would not feel comfortable responding.”
According to the Constitution, participation in the Census is mandatory, he said.
“It doesn’t say anything about do you have to answer all the questions,” Cummings added. “I think we’ve kind of got a potential way to go there.”
Though the U.S. Government used Census data to “figure out who the Japanese-Americans were” and send them to internment camps, laws are now in place to prevent such sharing of information.
“There are two laws on the books, Title 13 and Title 26, that govern the use of this data,” Cummings said.
Both laws were enacted in 1953, he said.
“They didn’t exist at the time when Census data was used to track down Japanese and put them in internment camps,” Cummings said. “Any Census worker that releases data improperly can be in prison for five years and fined $250,000, so I think everybody at the Census Bureau takes it pretty seriously.”
He said anyone who released that information, even to the White House, would be breaking the law.
“It’s not going to happen, at least not without a big court fight,” Cummings said.
Cummings said his function is to work with elected officials and community leaders to form complete count committees to make sure “we figure out who’s out there and count them properly.”
A Census has taken place every 10 years since 1790, he said.
“The initial purpose was to figure out how the districts should be carved up for representation,” he said.
As population shifts and grows, representation is adjusted.
After the 2010 Census, Arizona and Florida gained some seats in the House of Representatives, and New York and New Jersey lost some seats.
“We sort of expect the same sort of reshuffling this time around,” Cummings said. “There’s speculation that Oregon will pick up a sixth seat this time around.”
Another area of significant impact is federal funding.
“There’s $675 billion of federal money that’s redistributed to the states, the counties, the cities, through various programs,” Cummings said. “Not all of it is population-based, but an awful lot of it is.”
The data is used to draw legislative districts. Businesses and nonprofits use the data to apply for grants.
The 2020 Census will be the first time people will be able to respond via the internet.
“We’re hoping that 45 percent of respondents will use the internet,” he said. “It saves us a lot of labor.”
People may also respond through a toll-free number and through the traditional paper method.
The Census will only be mailed to physical addresses, not P.O. Boxes.
People who get their mail delivered to a P.O. Box can go online or call the 800 number to complete their census.
“I guess you’ll have to put posters in the post offices because a lot of those rural communities don’t have delivery folks,” said Cec Koontz, Monmouth mayor.
There will be a one-night effort, on March 30, to count people who are homeless.
The count will happen from March through June in 2020, and aggregate results will be presented to the president on Dec. 31, 2020.
“We will not release any individual response until 72 years from now,” Cummings said.
Councilor Roxanne Beltz said an Independence city councilor raised a concern about encouraging people to volunteer to help with the Census before a determination is made about the citizenship question.
“It is supposedly on the calendar in April,” Cummings said. “I’m hoping within a month we know the answer and we could move forward. Right now I’m assuming, worst-case scenario, that it stays on there and, like I said, we can make promises of confidentiality. I hope that people take that seriously and believe it. I believe it.”
He said there is also the idea that people can just answer as many questions as they can.
“We could all do that,” Koontz said.