Happy Census Day: Did you respond yet?

The census ensures federal funding is distributed appropriately to the population

With all of Juneau remaining at home due to a massive public health crisis, did you do the five minutes of work to make sure that Juneau’s schools, hospitals and public safety organizations get the money they need for the next 10 years?

Census Day, a day used to determine who has been counted in the decennial census, was planned for Wednesday, April 1, before COVID-19 became a pandemic and before the U.S. Census Bureau suspended field operations for a month. The count’s deadline has been pushed back to mid-August, but people can still fill out forms remotely — online, by phone or by mail.

“It’s more important than ever that people respond to the census,” said Gabe Layman, chair of the Alaska Census Working Group. “The implications are more significant than they were days or weeks ago.”

The census, conducted every 10 years, ensures that nearly a trillion dollars of funding spread across the country is distributed appropriately to the population, Layman said. Alaska receives about $3.2 billion of that funding annually, with its relatively small population, but that’s why it’s important for everyone to fill out their paperwork.

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“This is not about ‘why should I’ do this?” Layman said. “It’s about your community. We’re all in it together. It’s about the local law enforcement department having the resources they need. It’s about the schools having the resources they need.”

Schools, public safety and hospitals are just three areas among many that the census ensures funding for, Layman said. But there are concerns about scams and about giving the government more information, in a climate where agencies have abused privacy statutes.

“Data collected by the census bureau cannot be used by anyone including any government agency for any non-statistical purpose,” Layman said. “It can’t be used for immigration enforcement. It can’t be used for law enforcement.”

By law, the Census Bureau is bound to protect answers and keep them confidential.

Layman said while the group was concerned about people posing as census takers, Alaska hasn’t had an issue with it this year. There are issues in making sure the rural communities are represented, especially with visits by census takers being pushed back due to coronavirus concerns. Alaskans’ famous contrariness to government in their lives is also an issue, Layman said.

“One of the unique things about Alaskans is many of us live in Alaska for a reason. Many of us aren’t enthusiastic when it comes to the government asking us things,” Layman said. “It is super-critical that we get the word out to remote Alaskan communities to respond to the census.”

The census is critical so that Alaskan institutions can get the fiscal support they need from the federal government, Layman said, and it’s quick and easy to do. “I timed myself. It took me seven minutes,” Layman said. “They say the average household takes about 10 minutes.”

Respond to the census

You can respond by internet at 2020census.gov or by phone at 1-844-330-2020.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757.621.1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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