Opinion: Commentary: Have You Filled Out Your Census?

Opinion: Commentary: Have You Filled Out Your Census?

I am sure, and certainly hope, that you have heard a lot about the decennial census in the last few months, not only from my office but from many sources. I have some good news if you have not yet completed your census: the original July 31, 2020 deadline has been extended three months to give you even more time to fill it out and get counted!

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the self-response period has been extended through Oct. 31. You can complete the census by phone, mail, or online; and, make sure to count everyone who was living in your household as of April 1.

What is the census? The U.S. Census is mandated by Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution to count every resident living in the United States and its territories every 10 years. A lot about the census has changed throughout history. The first census was taken in 1790, with approximately 650 census-takers (enumerators) traveling across the country on horseback and on foot, recording each household’s answers on forms made of parchment and animal skins. The 2020 census is unique, as this is the first census with the option for households in the U.S. to respond online, by phone, or by mail, and the first that will be navigated during an unprecedented pandemic.

The national self-response rate is currently at 58.5%, while Virginia is at 63.5%. Our self-response rate here in Fairfax County is 72.7%. Virginia is one of the top states for self-response nationwide, which is good news, but we are still not at one hundred percent. This means that we stand to lose federal funding that is due to us for critical programs like education and transportation. Each Virginian counted in the census will bring in about $2,000 in funding to our state per year for the next decade! The census is also necessary for redrawing new Congressional and state legislative districts to ensure that everyone in Virginia is represented equally in Congress and the state legislature.

As of May 4, enumerators began deploying across the country to leave invitations to complete the census and paper questionnaires at the doorsteps of millions of Americans. Census staff will not only be deployed to households, but they will also visit soup kitchens, shelters, campgrounds, RV parks, and hotels to ensure that even those without a permanent residence or those experiencing homelessness get counted within their communities. Due to COVID-19, and the necessary precautions that will need to be taken to reduce face-to-face contact with census staff and residents, in-person interviews for households who have not yet responded to the census are on hold until Aug. 11. If at all possible, to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, it is encouraged that you respond to the census questionnaire online, by mail, or by phone.

An important thing to remember is that the census is entirely confidential. When you respond to the census, your answers are kept anonymous, and they are used only to produce statistics. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau is bound by law to protect your census answers. Your private information is never published and cannot be used against you in any way. The 2020 Census will NOT ask for your citizenship status. Everyone living in the United States is required to be counted by the census, including non-citizens.

Remember that the 2020 Census will NEVER ask for your social security number, bank or credit card information, or for money. If you encounter a form or enumerator that asks for any of this information, it’s a scam! Please report any suspected fraud to the Census Bureau at 800-923-8282.

If someone visits your home (which wouldn’t happen until after Aug. 11, and only if you haven’t already completed your questionnaire) to collect a response for the #2020Census, you can do the following to verify their identity:

Check that they have a valid ID badge, with their photograph, a U.S. Department of Commerce watermark, and an expiration date.

If you still have questions about their identity, please call 800-923-8282 to speak with a local Census Bureau representative.

Please take a moment to fill out your census questionnaire and be counted! It is our civic duty.