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Deadline extended to participate in Census

By Staff | Apr 1, 2020

While the country is in the midst of a global pandemic, county officials remind residents to participate in the 2020 Census that determines funding for many crucial state and county programs over the next decade.

It’s easier than ever to participate, as the public can now respond via mail, phone or online.

The form takes mere minutes to complete and makes a prolific impact on your community.

“It’s extremely important that people participate in the Census,” said Michelle Malsbury, participation specialist with the U.S. Census Bureau for Lee, Collier and Charlotte County. “It funds health care, education, SNAP programs for the kids.”

Census numbers also impact infrastructure grants, the building of schools and disaster relief dollars and resources. It set the pace of funding for the next decade.

“An accurate count of Lee County is essential,” a release from the Census states. “Data are used to ensure that our community has fair representation in federal and state legislatures and proportionate funding for roads and public transit, healthcare, schools, housing, parks, public safety and many more county-wide programs.”

With the spread of COVID-19 at the forefront of the public’s minds, reporting to the bureau could help ensure each community has the supplies it needs in a time of turmoil.

“Especially now, with the tests for coronavirus, you’re only going to get as many tests as your population response,” Malsbury said. “If residents are insistent they remain healthy and safe, they need to make sure they respond to the Census, because that’s how that money will be allocated; to all of the counties and then trickle down to the cities and unincorporated locations in the county.”

Census Day, is today, April 1. As of now, the U.S. Census Bureau has currently extended its deadline to Aug.14. Malsbury said that might change.

“It still considered Census Day, however, because of the coronavirus and everything being changed, we’re working with a very fluid landscape, if you will,” Malsbury said.

Currently, Lee County is reporting at 34.4 percent, said Malsbury, with the state honing in at that percentage as a whole. Cape Coral’s response is around 27 to 28 percent at this time.

While Malsbury saw most response numbers as a positive for the current climate, she said Florida’s total percentage of response in 2010 was a weak one, coming in mid-60s to low 70s.

“It’s leaving money on the table,” she said.

Participating in the Census has never been easier, now with three different ways to report. In prior counts, mail-in was the only way to go. Malsbury said they can now get real-time results logged in the system with people calling in and submitting online.

“It took me literally one minute to do,” Malsbury said. “That’s another point that we’re trying to stress. While people are home and not able to work the way they were before, that they could in fact (fill this out quickly).”

Mailed invitations to complete the Census are addressed to “Resident” rather than to a specific name. This is the official invitation to participate and should not be discarded.

Lee County has even given parents permission to use their child’s laptop and hotspot — given to students for virtual learning purposes — to participate in the Census online.

“We’re hoping by offering other avenues for responding, that we’ll get a much higher response rate,” Malsbury said. “It’s never been so easy.”

Census officials would like to see some areas of the county have a larger response rate that what they currently have, such as the barrier islands, Matlacha, Pine Island and others. These low response areas could affect the overall county score, said Malsbury.

“Those (areas) need a lot of work,” she said.

Census officials have pushed back dates and deadlines in nearly every area.

The “self-response” phase, that includes submitting via online, phone or mail has been extended to Aug. 14.

All in-person Census activities have been suspended and delayed until April 13.

Non-response follow-up has been delayed to May 28.

“With coronavirus, they have pulled everybody out of the field. Nobody is allowed to go out at all,” Malsbury said.

The Census Bureau has been directed to deliver its count to the president by Dec. 31. Any redistricting will be announced by April 1, 2021.

The COVID-19 outbreak has taken a toll on staffing as well.

“I think it’s going to have a negative affect on county staffing, sadly,” Malsbury said. “We wanted to hire more and do training — we couldn’t do any of that. I hope we can get people still. We’re having a hard time recruiting people.”

Malsbury estimated that only 70 percent of recruiting for Census work in Lee County has been filled.

To participate online and for more information, visit www.2020Census.gov.

– Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj