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Accurate 2020 Census count means access to resources

The 2020 U.S. Census will determine how many members of the U.S. House of Representatives each state will have. According to Georgia Department of Community Affairs Deputy Commissioner Rusty Haygood, Georgia’s delegation appears likely to remain at 14 seats.

But Haygood, co-chairman of the Georgia Complete Count Committee, says the ramifications of the census the United States conducts every 10 years go well beyond congressional representation and carry enormous importance at the local level.

“The purpose of this committee is to make sure everybody around the state knows that the census is coming and it’s important,” Haygood told the Georgia Farm Bureau Policy Development Committee on Oct. 7. “Number two, it’s to make resources available to communities, organizations and individuals around the state, for them to use to make sure the count is as successful as possible.”

GFB President Gerald Long is one of 75 members appointed to the Complete Count Committee by the office of the governor.

The census, Haygood said, boils down to political power and money.

In addition to congressional reapportionment, census data is the basis for drawing state and local political districts, from the Georgia General Assembly down to local school boards, county commissions and city councils.

There are 55 federal rural programs for which funding is determined in whole or in part by census data. These include Medicaid, Medicare Part B, the National School Lunch Program, the Head Start program, the aid for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), USDA business and industry loans and the Cooperative Extension Service.

Haygood noted that in 2016 Georgia received $23.8 billion in federal funding for rural  programs, an average of $2,300 per Georgia resident. It was the most federal money received by any state for those rural programs.

“If you know somebody that benefits for these programs, then it’s very important that they are counted, because that’s going to equal dollars coming back to the state of Georgia. If we are undercounted, those dollars are going to go somewhere else,” Haygood said.

Haygood said the most undercounted demographic groups are children from birth up to five years old. More than a million children in that age group went uncounted in 2010. The effect of undercounting preschool-age children is that when they reach school age and there is need for more classroom space, the financial burden for adding that space falls more on local funding sources.

 Haygood said people who do not have English as their primary language are also historically undercounted.

“Two demographics right there that historically have a significant undercount of millions of people are present within each of your communities,” Haygood said.

The 2020 Census will be the first that is done primarily online. It is scheduled to launch in March, when the U.S. Census Bureau will send out postcards instructing individuals where to go online to fill out the census. The Complete Count Committee is partnering with libraries around the state to provide local internet connections for people with limited access.

Those who do not fill out the nine-question census form online have the option of doing so by phone or doing so in person when a census employee visits them.

Haygood encouraged the GFB Policy Development Committee members to participate in or form local complete count committees in their communities.