Opinion: Don’t Forget the Census Amid the Crisis

The decennial census has arrived, almost exactly at the same time as the possible impacts of the COVID-19 virus became evident. The near-shutdown is going to make everything about the count more complicated and puts pressure on everyone to complete their census count on their own and as soon as possible.

The official “Census Day” is April 1, but the website opened for questions or to submit your form in mid-March. The Census hopes that most people will go online (www.my2020census.gov) and submit their information. A variety of follow-ups and alternatives have been planned, such as getting help or using a machine at the library or in person follow-ups to individuals who don’t fill out their form. But the ongoing health emergency is going to complicate all of these approaches.

A complete census count is vitally important. Adams County typically has a 15-20% undercount and that costs us money and political power. The census count is used to determine how much representation we have in Congress and in Harrisburg. Whether our representatives are Republicans or Democrats, we want Adams County to speak with as loud a voice as possible in Washington and Harrisburg.

The census is also used to determine distribution of billions of dollars of federal and state funds, for schools, roads, and other purposes. Anyone who we miss in the census count is a loss of funding that we need.

While the health emergency is going to make the census more challenging, an accurate census count also helps us prepare better for an emergency. Census results can be used to identify at-risk areas and populations (flood damage, storm vulnerability, concentrations of at-risk citizens, concentrations of homeless people, etc.), areas lacking hospital services or hospitals that lack sufficient equipment and staff, evacuation routes, and likely distribution points for emergency supplies. Surveys of manufacturers can help identify alternative sources for vital equipment that’s in short supply, labor shortages or surpluses, and many other things.

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Leon Reed is a former US Senate staff member, defense consultant, and history teacher. He is a five year resident of Gettysburg, where he volunteers with SCCAP and at the Resource Room at the park visitor center; writes military history; and explores the park and the Adams County countryside. He is the publisher at Little Falls Books, a board member of Adams County Habitat for Humanity, and is chairing the Adams County 2020 Census Complete Count Committee. He and his wife, Lois, have 3 children, 4 cats, and 5 grandchildren.