With 2020 census responses lagging, area officials continue to urge residents to self-respond, especially since the deadline has been extended due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Overall participation is increasing for the Dothan Metropolitan Statistical Area, but response rates are still far below the 90% goal set when the count started.
As of Monday, Houston County’s self-response rate was 57.7%, Geneva County’s 53%, and Henry County’s 48%. The three counties comprise the Dothan MSA.
Dale County has a 53% response rate and Coffee County is at 56%.
Social distancing mandates have delayed a boots-on-the-ground effort for census takers to count residents who do not self-respond via email or online at my2020 census.gov.
Lori Wilcoxon, the Dothan MSA’s census coordinator, said officials have had to resort to other means of reaching the community.
“We have worked through the school systems and sent fliers home, had billboards in each community and used social media heavily, including Zoom meetings,” she said. “As social distancing loosens up, there will be more opportunities to get out and reach those hard-to-count areas.”
In late May or early June, Wilcoxon expects enumerators to start going door to door to count residents.
County extension offices in Houston, Henry and Geneva counties have iPads that will be used to assist residents who may not have home access to the online form. Area libraries also will be able to assist online participation once they reopen.
The census is done once every 10 years. The data is used to make funding and representation decisions for the next decade.
“Literally everyone from birth to death is affected by the census,” Wilcoxon said. “It’s not about being legal, locating criminals or raising taxes. It is about power and money.
“Power comes from showing where you live, so that local districts can be distributed evenly for representation from local commissioners to state and federal legislators. The census gives each city, community and neighborhood the power to have a voice in things. The money comes in federal dollars and is an exact reflection of the census measurement.”
For every person counted in the census, it brings $1,600 back to the community in federal funds annually. These funds are administered through different programs and can affect road and infrastructure funding, Medicare, Head Start, Commun-ity Development Block Grants, school lunch funds and small business assistance, Wilcoxon said.
The census can be completed at my2020census.gov in about 10 minutes using the unique code each household received by mail. The deadline to self-respond has been extended to Aug. 14.
“Now is the time to stand up and be counted for yourself, your kids, your community and for Alabama,” she said. “We cannot afford to lose another legislative voice for Alabama.”