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More local census responses needed, officials say

By Richard Rourk

It’s census time in America and it looks like many residents of Unicoi County are doing their part and responding to the federally-mandated questionnaire.

“I get an update every Friday and it looks like Unicoi County is around the 65 percent mark, which is good,” Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely told The Erwin Record. “There is still time for everyone to complete the census and hopefully that percentage will go up. The census is crucial to funding for the county. All of our federal dollars come from the census, so it’s imperative that everyone submits the census form.”

According to Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch, funds for the three municipalities in Unicoi County come from that census data.

“We get grant money from that info and most times the towns and county have to pay little to nothing to get those grants,” Lynch said.

Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley is impressed with the response, but would love to see the percentages grow.

“We had a very good start and we would love to see that 60 percent grow to 70, 80 and 100 percent of responses,” Hensley said.

The Census Bureau Partnership and Media Specialist June Iljana explained that there is still plenty of time for citizens to complete the 2020 Census.

“The Census Bureau will continue receiving responses until Oct. 31, 2020; however, we strongly encourage households to respond as soon as they receive their census invitation in the mail,” Iljana said. “Households that do not self-respond will be visited by a census-taker, but that is the most costly option, so we are encouraging everyone to respond online, by phone or by mail as soon as they receive their invitation. The more people who respond on their own quickly, the fewer homes census takers will need to visit.”

According to Iljana, there are several options available for citizens to respond to the 2020 census.

“It is quick and simple to respond online at www.2020census.gov, by phone at 844-330-2020, or in writing by sending your questionnaire through the mail,” Iljana said. “The Census Bureau is committed to a complete and accurate count. We thank our local partners for helping us get the word out that responding to the census is easy, it’s important, and it’s confidential.”

Census data influences funding for public services such as healthcare, education, crisis response and recovery, school lunch programs, and much more. Some examples include: education, infrastructure, transportation, health care, public services, employment, low-income housing and responding to the census is also a way to ensure that the community receives appropriate political representation for the next 10 years.

According to Iljana, there is no danger in answering the census questions.

“There is no risk in responding to the census because individual answers cannot be shared with anyone, including any other government agency,” Iljana said. “More than 90,000 households have already responded to the 2020 Census, reflecting 60.8 percent of homes. Unicoi County is responding especially well so far with 63.9 percent of households responding, the vast majority via the internet option. This is consistent with projected response rates and the numbers are expected to increase as more households receive their invitation to respond and take advantage of online, phone and mail response options.”

You can see the response rates along with internet response rates down to county, city and census tract levels at https://2020census.gov/en/response-rates.html. The site is updated daily. You can also see comparison data among states, counties in a state, and cities at https://public.tableau.com/profile/us.census.bureau#!/vizhome/2020CensusSelf-ResponseRankings/RankingsDashboard.

Some people living in rural communities may not have received an invitation to respond to the census yet due to the COVID-19 pause in operations; however, those questionnaires will be hand-delivered to residents soon. The Census Bureau has produced a useful fact sheet explaining that process. It’s available at https://www.census.gov/library/fact-sheets/2020/dec/update-leave.html.

There are still employment opportunities available to work for the census in Unicoi County. Census jobs start at $13.50 an hour plus mileage reimbursement, with paid training and a flexible schedule including days, evenings and weekends.

Applications are being accepted now at www.2020census.gov/jobs.