2020 census kickoff

Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba addresses a crowd as respresentatives from the Wiregrass and the State of Alabama look on during a kickoff campaign for the 2020 Census.

City, county and state officials and representatives of area organizations gathered Thursday to host the 2020 Census Kickoff at the Dothan City Commission Chambers at the Dothan Civic Center.

The Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce, city of Dothan, the Southeast Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission, the Wiregrass Foundation and Henry, Houston and Geneva counties have joined forces to increase participation in the upcoming census. The partnership is coordinated by Lori Wilcoxon.

“Information gathered from the upcoming 2020 census is very important,” said Cliff Mendheim, chairman of the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce’s board. “Our goal is to educate the community on the importance of their participation. The number of residents who participate in the census helps to determine how the counties move ahead during the next 10 years. It helps to determine what will be built, such as schools and hospitals. Every count matters.”

The census is conducted every 10 years. In 2010, the participation rates in Geneva and Houston counties were roughly 70%. Henry County’s participation rate was in the 50% range.

All three counties are working with the Wiregrass Foundation and the Southeast Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission toward a goal of 90% participation. Wilcoxon and volunteers will travel through the area, educating residents on the importance of participating in the census.

Low participation has an adverse effect on programs throughout the city and county, said Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba. With a low participation rate, programs such as school lunch programs, SNAP, Medicare Part B, Head Start, low income home energy assistance, Section 8 housing, and foster care could be affected.

“You can see how everyone’s participation does matter,” Saliba said.

An underreported census also would diminish government funds received for roads, said Houston County Commission Chairman Mark Culver and Henry County Commission Chairman David Money.

“I have already started receiving calls regarding some people not liking the questions asked on the census, and I understand that,” Culver said. “But it’s quick, it’s simple and we need everyone’s participation.

“We need to reach those undercounted and underserved. That’s the goal of this partnership. This partnership between counties, the Southeast Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission, and the Wiregrass Foundation is just another example of living in the greatest part of the state of Alabama. We are working together to move forward with everyone’s help. We need everyone’s participation to meet this goal.”

State Reps. Jeff Sorrells and Steve Clouse also attended the kickoff. Both spoke about educating everyone in the community about the census and standing together to make a difference in the communities involved.

“Stand together,” Sorrells said. “Remember what goes on this year after the census is completed will affect the area for the next 10 years. Put the word out, and encourage everyone to participate.”

Dr. Barbara Alford, president of the Wiregrass Foundation, characterized census participation as an investment in the community. The community receives roughly $1,600 per person who participates in the census.

Flyers for the census are scheduled to be received by mail by mid-March. A toll-free number and a web address will be listed for residents to visit to fill out the census.

All city and county residents residing in Henry, Houston, and Geneva counties are urged to participate.

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