The two biggest reasons to get every single person counted in the 2020 census are federal dollars and having your state’s voice heard in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to Emily Kelley, the U.S. Census Bureau’s partnership coordinator for Kansas and Oklahoma.
Census Day is April 1, 2020. The people who live here in the Lawton-Fort Sill area will receive their “Invitation to Respond to the Census” beginning around March 12.
Kelley said it’s really important that when you receive that invitation, open that envelope, get your unique code out, go online right then and respond to the census. If you don’t have a computer, the library is getting mobilized to help you respond using its computers.
Not only will it help ensure an accurate count, but it will save the Census Bureau tax dollars. It won’t have to hire as many people to get the work done locally.
Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution mandates a census every 10 years. Every single person living in the United States as of April 1, 2020, will be counted as part of the 2020 census – not just U.S. citizens, not just people of voting age. That means babies born on April 1 count, as do foreign exchange students who are here studying at Cameron University and military families who are stationed here at Fort Sill.
“The most important thing to remember is that the census count helps determine the federal funding that comes into the state, and it also helps with political power in the form of apportionment,” Kelley said.
“The big picture is it bring billions of dollars into the state,” she said.
The decennial census helps inform the distribution of more than $675 billion in federal funding. More than $9 billion in federal funding pours into Oklahoma cities and counties based off the number of people who were here in 2010. It goes for roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, child care centers and all the federal programs that serve Oklahoma communities. The top five are Medicaid, Federal Direct Student Loans, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicare Part B and Highway Planning and Construction.
There are 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Oklahoma’s representation is based on the decennial census count. Texas was a winner in the last census, picking up four more seats in the House. But that meant other states lost seats, Kelley pointed out. Some of them were Midwestern states.
“Most important, if we don’t do the count right this time — if there are people in Lawton who don’t respond and we can’t track them down — we’re stuck with those numbers until 2030 when we do this census again. So that’s a long time to be missing federal funding for people,” said Kelley.
For every single person not counted, Oklahoma stands to lose more than $1,000 every year, she warned.
Many people mistakenly think they’re supposed to be counted at their home of record, Kelley said.
“Military families are counted where they live most of the year. So for those families who are stationed here at Fort Sill, they are counted at their address right here in the Lawton-Fort Sill area,” she explained.
Troops deployed overseas are counted at the Department of Defense level. U.S. Census Bureau headquarters and the Pentagon are talking together to count those service members. If they are deployed from Lawton-Fort Sill, they should be counted as from Lawton-Fort Sill, Kelley said.
People living in post housing will receive “Invitations to Respond” just like other households across the U.S. However, soldiers living in the barracks will not. They will be counted by what’s called a “group quarters count.” Enumerators working out of the Norman office are communicating with a group quarters advanced contact with leadership at Fort Sill to do the administrative count of those soldiers living in the barracks.
“We know that that number is very important for the Lawton-Fort Sill community, and we want to make sure we get it right, so we’ve been working with Fort Sill and will continue to do so until the census is completed on July 31,” Kelley said.
Also important to know: The Census Bureau is hiring for hundreds of jobs in the local area. Its temporary part-time jobs pay $14.50 an hour and up. You also get the federal mileage rate, which is about 58 cents a mile.
Kelley highly encourages military spouses and dependents to apply. Soldiers can’t be hired for the job, but their family members can, and those who live on post can do work on post enumeration. Check out 2020census.gov/jobs or text Oklahomajobs at 313131 to have application information sent directly to you.
She pulled up a color-coded map showing the hard-to-count places in Lawton. In one census tract from Fort Sill, 31 percent did not respond to the American Community Services surveys when they came out, a likely indicator of a similar undercount in the census itself.
In a follow-up to the Census Workshop Kelley conducted here Tuesday, the Lawton Complete Count Committee will meet at 5:30 p.m. today in the City Hall banquet room, 212 SW 9th. Travis Estep is leading that effort, and if you would like to join, email firstname.lastname@example.org
“It’s your opportunity to take a leadership role to make sure that the Lawton community is counted,” Kelley said.
The Census Bureau has several upcoming initiatives to raise awareness about the importance of being counted. One is “National Statistics in School Week” March 2-6. Teachers can find free, fully developed lesson plans on the Educators tab at 2020census.gov. Another is “Worship Weekend” March 27-29, when places of worship will be encouraged to talk about the importance of the census with their congregations.