Francis Koster: Critical for local residents to complete Census

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 20, 2020

By Francis Koster

I have bad news, and good news.   

The bad news is that if your household does not complete the Census by Sept. 30, you can be fined $100.  Why would you be fined? Because money follows the numbers. Populated areas get more. 

If your household does not complete the Census, it can cost Rowan County $4,500 per year every year for the next 10 years in lost federal dollars that would have funded schools, police and fire, health departments, food stamps, environmental protection and almost 300 other community strengthening programs. Your own family’s failure to take 10 minutes and answer a few questions would cost Rowan County taxpayers $45,000 between now and the next census in 2030. 

We have a bad situation — as of Sept. 17, 6,000 out of 54,000 Rowan County households (one in nine of our neighbors) have not completed the questionnaire.  The majority of them are located in areas with poor or no internet.

Do the math: if each of those 6,000 households fails to complete the Census, at $4,500 per household, Rowan County would lose around $28 million in federal funding next year. Between now and when the next Census is done in 10 years, Rowan County will lose around $282 million in federal funding.

In the Census completion competition between all 50 states, North Carolina ranks fifth from the bottom, with a score of 88.5% households completing the form. West Virginia has 99.5%.

Most people think that the Census is intended to gather information about citizens. That is not true. The Census Bureau already has the data; the job of the Census is to verify it.

The Census Bureau is legally entitled to vacuum up all sorts of data about you. They are not collecting new data because they have huge databases, which they are forbidden to share for 72 years with any other branch of government, containing your date of birth, your race, your citizenship, your drivers’ license information and data furnished when you applied for unemployment or welfare, qualify for free school lunches, get a government backed mortgage as well as apply for veterans’ benefits, or federal or state pensions.  (No information about citizenship status is gathered or stored).

Your marriage and divorce information, local property tax information and arrest records are already assembled, along with your hunting or fishing license — all the information that is freely available on the internet. They also get data from the United States Postal Service; tribal, state and local governments; satellite imagery; and third-party data providers.

All the Census wants you to do is to verify that what they already have on record about you is accurate. If you moved after April 1 or a member of your household died, they identify the mismatch and check with you to make sure they have the right data.

The deadline is September 30. If we are going to capture that $45,000 per household now at risk because of forms not filled out in the next 10 days, we need to treat this like a flood or huge fire. Everyone has to jump in to save our community the $282 million that is hanging out there.    

Rotary and veterans clubs should quickly send copies of this story to their entire membership. High schools have to challenge each other to a competition to see how many students can get their parents to take the 10 minutes and complete the form. It is not football, but it will bring in a lot more money. The Economic Development Commission and Chamber of Commerce need to notify their members of what is at stake and ask them to grant employees 10 minutes to fill out the form on line. Each restaurant offering take out should include a copy of this article in with the napkins. Area churches should notify their congregation about how increasing Census participation will increase the amount of food available for the poor, rental assistance and so forth.

Many of our friends and neighbors are going to go through COVID-19 economic and health struggles for the next year or so. One of the easiest ways you can support them without leaving your home is to make sure everyone you know has filled out the Census so we get that money. 

Are you going to walk your talk about being a caring American?  Or risk a $100 fine?

Koster lives in Kannapolis and is an activist who has been studying, teaching and implementing local solutions to national problems for over 50 years.