Census undercount may lower federal funding for state, county

Published 3:23 am Friday, April 2, 2010

The Lowndes Signal

April 1 is Census Day and as citizens are returning their forms early, the question remains if most realize how they are shaping their communities.

Census results not only determine the strength of political representation in Washington and Montgomery, but private business also depends on statistics from the Census to determine spending decisions.

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Walter Hill brought this fact to the attention of the citizens of Mosses in a recent council meeting.

“Fill out the ten, so better progress can begin,” said Hill. “We cannot express enough the importance of filling out the form.”

An estimated 53,000 Alabama residents were not counted in the 2000 Census and a similar undercount this year could potentially result in the loss of $697 million in federal funds.

Billions of federal dollars allocated each year are based on population counts by the Census. Those funds can help support education, health care, highways, community development and numerous other programs.

Each uncounted person could cost Alabama approximately $13,155 in federal funding over the next decade, according to Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs Director Doni M. Ingram.

Since 1790 when Thomas Jefferson and James Madison oversaw the first Census, the questionnaire has been conducted every ten years and is required to do so under Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution.

Now, the Census is primarily executed by mail, which averages less than $1, to keep down costs. However, if a questionnaire is not returned, the Census Bureau must send out an enumerator who may make up to six visitsto a given household.

When said employees are dispatched, that cost jumps to about $57, which can be expensive to taxpayers and intrusive to homeowners.

Due to the 2010 form being one of the shortest in history, it can take less than 10 minutes to complete.

The questionnaire asks if a person is a homeowner or renter, their name, gender, age, race and relationship of each individual in the household.

Hill encouraged community members to ask for identification when approached by Census workers, due to people posing as government officials requesting similar information.

Census employees are required to take a confidentiality oath by law and can be fined $250,000 and sentenced to five years in prison if any person’s information is divulged.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA) administers a wide range of grant programs that assist communities within Alabama with infrastructure improvements, job training, public safety, energy conservation, recreation and other services.

ADECA’s available funding is also determined in part by population statistics taken from the Census.