News Thursday afternoon that the federal census count has been extended to Oct. 31 is good news for Oklahoma.
The count, which began in mid-March just as the coronavirus hit, had been slated to end in late July. But with much of the country shut down in April and part of May, the deadline was extended to late September. The Census Bureau has asked for the count to be extended to Dec. 31, but the United State Senate has not taken up the request.
On Thursday, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction that will allow the once-in-a-decade head count of every resident in America to be extended until Halloween. Oklahoma will benefit from the extension, since large portions of Southwest Oklahoma still have not been counted.
Statewide, about 96 percent of residents in Oklahoma have been counted, according to the U.S. Census Bureau website. However, that is not true of residents in Southwest Oklahoma, who are woefully undercounted.
The response rate numbers, according to the census bureau, for our section of the state are not pretty. In Comanche County, 59 percent of residents have been counted. Counts for some of the other counties in our readership area are: Cotton County, 47.4 percent; Tillman County, 47.6 percent; Jackson County, 54.8 percent; Stephens County, 58.6 percent; Caddo County, 39.2 percent; and Kiowa County, 47.4 percent.
We cannot stress enough how important it is to respond to the census. More than 100 federal programs use the census data to determine where to send federal funds. We have listed a few of the programs that use this data, but let us list some more: Section 8 housing vouchers, highway planning and construction, Pell grants, school lunch programs, special education grants to states, unemployment insurance, school breakfast programs, adoption assistance, crime victim assistance, Community Development Block Grants, wildlife restoration, formula grants for rural areas, water and waste water disposal systems for rural communities, assistance to firefighter grants, small business development centers, Native American employment and training, hunter education and safety programs and a special milk program for children.
We could go on, but you get the idea. In Fiscal Year 2015, the U.S. Census data was used to distribute almost $7 billion federal dollars for the above-mentioned programs and many, many more.
Redistricting may be the most important issue which depends on the census numbers. Population numbers are used to determine how many representatives each state sends to Congress. Each state sends two Senators to Congress, but the number of representatives in the U.S. House are determined by a state’s population. Right now, Oklahoma has five representatives. Texas, which has a much larger population has 36.
If not all Oklahomans are willing to be counted, then we could lose a representative. That means Oklahoma will not have as great a voice in the halls of Congress.
Census takers are out in the area right now asking those who have not yet responded to give them a few minutes to fill out a simple form. The process is painless and your fellow Oklahomans, those who depend on federal funds, will thank you.