Any day now, you will receive information about the U.S. Census in your mailbox. Please don’t throw this information away. It may look like junk mail, but completing the census form is one of the most important ways you can help our community this month.
The census is an important part of our democracy. Every 10 years it takes a snapshot of our population. This is not an optional exercise, but something that is mandated by our Constitution. It’s really based on the principle of fairness: In order to determine how we allocate federal representation and federal funding, we need to know how our population is changing. And by ensuring that everyone is counted, it ensures that everyone can participate in our democracy in a fair and equitable way.
The census was written into the Constitution in order to determine how congressional representation would be allocated between states. But over the years, it has taken on much more importance. The census plays a key role in determining state and local funding. Census data guide the distribution of more than $400 billion in federal funds to local, state and tribal governments each year. These funds go toward programs such as Medicaid, education, childcare, transportation, and public safety.
On a local level, census data help guide planning decisions, such as the placement of schools, hospitals, roads, and job training centers. Census data are also used to determine locations for retail stores, new housing developments and other community facilities.
It’s important that you are counted. In California, our communities will lose $3,000 in federal funds for each person who is not counted next year. And those who don’t fill out their forms will cost taxpayers a lot of extra money. The Census Bureau will be forced to go door-to-door to follow up with households who don’t return their forms. For every 1 percent of people that mails back the forms, the Census Bureau will save about $85 million in operational costs.
So when you receive your form in the mail — fill it out. There are just 10 questions. Then put it back in the postage-paid envelope that’s provided and send it back. If you use a P.O. box to get your mail, you’ll get counted too — but your form will be hand delivered. Don’t worry — any personal data you provide is protected under federal law. Any individually identifiable information is completely private, and will not be shared with anyone. The Census Bureau needs to receive your response by April 20 to make sure it doesn’t have to come to your door.
While it may seem boring, a lot is riding on those 10 questions. It’s your chance to make sure that our democracy functions correctly, and that our community will receive its fair share of federal funding.
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson serves California’s 1st Congressional District, which includes Del Norte County.