Compiled by Erica Wright, The Birmingham Times
Kenneth Boswell, director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, is chair of the Alabama Counts 2020 committee. He responded to these questions from The Birmingham Times.
BT: What impact does the recent coronavirus pandemic have on the Census efforts in Alabama?
Kenneth Boswell: The great thing about the 2020 Census is that it has never been easier to respond on your own, whether online, over the phone or by mail—all without having to meet a census taker. Notification letters from the Census Bureau to Alabama households began going out on March 12 and are continuing until March 20. There are three ways to respond: online at www.my2020census.gov, by phone at 1-844-330-2020 or by paper form.
We are keeping in contact with the U.S. Census Bureau and know that they are monitoring the situation very closely. We anticipate any changes would likely be to the in-person follow-up by census workers to households who do not complete their census by April 30. Right now, that portion is scheduled to begin in May.
BT: How does the state plan to proceed with the Census in light of the pandemic?
Boswell: The census is something that is quick and easy to complete at home, so that is our main message right now. We have a statewide awareness campaign that includes TV, newspaper, radio, social media, billboard and digital messages. Some census-related events scheduled for the next couple weeks have been postponed, but we are adjusting accordingly and will continue to do everything we can to encourage all in Alabama to take their census.
BT: What’s the significance of the April 1, 2020 deadline with the Census?
Boswell: April 1 is simply what the Census Bureau calls Census Day. It is a symbolic day designed to encourage all who live in the United States to self-respond to their Census form. Right now, we are encouraging participation as soon as the invitation letters are received and by April 30 which is the designated self-response period before the Census Bureau follows up in person with those households who have not yet responded.
BT: How much does the state stand to lose in funding if there is an under count or drop in Census numbers? What are some of the programs that will be affected if that money is lost?
Boswell: Alabama receives about $13 billion in census-derived funding per year for important programs that support Alabama’s healthcare, schools, infrastructure and community services.
Here is a link to a study by George Washington University that details 55 federal programs linked to census data and their impact on Alabama: https://census.alabama.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/IPP-1819-3-CountingforDollars_AL.pdf
BT: Is there a certain percentage for example, 70-90 percent that the state has a goal to reach for the Census count?
Boswell: We are asking for maximum participation as close to 100 percent as possible. We must do better than the 72 percent participation rate that Alabama recorded in 2010.
BT: If this is an under count, how many seats, statewide and on a federal level does Alabama stand to lose and what will that mean for residents?
Boswell: Many projections have the state at-risk of losing a congressional seat if we perform at the same level as we did in 2010. The impact of that lost seat will mean one less voice to advocate for the state’s needs at the federal level. For example, Congress is currently discussing a package of stimulus/recovery dollars to lessen the impact of the Coronavirus on the economy. The more representation that the state has during these discussions and decisions, the better our voice will be heard and the better the likelihood that we will receive our fair share of federal dollars to benefit Alabamians.
There would be no change in the number of state legislators. However, the data collected during the census is used by the legislature for redistricting purposes.
BT: How is the importance of the Census spread to communities that have been historically undercounted? What strategies are in place to make sure those areas are fully included?
Boswell: Those areas and communities are very important to the success of the 2020 Census and we all benefit from maximum participation. So, we are focusing on the impact that a successful count would have on our state and those communities. We have been working to identify those partners for these communities as part of our grassroots campaign. In December, Governor Ivey awarded $1 million in grants to 34 statewide, regional and local groups to support grassroots census efforts, with many targeted toward harder-to-count groups and areas, including Alabama’s Black Belt, Hispanic immigrants, people with disabilities, children under age 5 and college students.
We have also developed an online tool kit of awareness and promotional items that can be used by any group or individual to help increase awareness of the 2020 Census and its importance to Alabama at www.alabama2020census.com.
BT: How long do people have to fill out their Census? How long does it take to gather all of the Census information and get it to the federal government?
Boswell: We are asking everyone to self-respond by taking the census as soon as they receive their letter from the Census Bureau and definitely by April 30. Right now, the census workers will begin following up in-person with households who have not completed the census starting in May and continuing through July.
The census only takes about six minutes to complete. There are 10 very basic questions – name, date of birth, sex, race, whether you own or rent the residence, phone number and similar information about others living or staying in your household. You typically submit more information when responding to a special offer online.
The data is secure and protected by strict federal law. Nothing you submit can be shared or used against you by any agency.
BT: How or when will the state know the results of the Census?
Boswell: The deadline for the census results to be submitted to the president is December 31, 2020. The Census Bureau will publicly release the final results around March 2021.
This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.