United States Census Bureau staff will be on hand at the JBS Apartments in Cactus on Wednesday, July 22, from 10:30 am to 2:30 pm to assist members of the public who have not yet responded to the census questionnaire that was mailed out or placed on their front door earlier in the year. "People will be able to respond right on the spot and avoid having the census people knock on their door starting in August," said Timothy Olsen, Associate Director for Field Operations, United States Census Bureau.
The event Wednesday is open to the public -- not just apartment residents, according to a bureau spokesperson, and everyone who has not yet self responded is encouraged to attend. "Higher self-response rates mean fewer people are likely to be missed or counted inaccurately," she added.
Census personnel Wednesday will be equipped with iPads and will be able to answer questions and accept residents' data in English, Spanish and 12 other languages. They will also have access online and by telephone to guides in a total of 59 languages that can assist people in the process of submitting their census data. Leaders of various refugee communities in Cactus will be on hand Wednesday to help bridge the language barrier as well.
The event is part of a Census Bureau campaign to try to increase self response before census staff begin going door to door in mid August for the final enumeration, Olsen said in a July 8 press briefing. The effort is concentrated in areas with the lowest self-response rate, which includes Moore County. According to figures from July 13, the most current available data, only 45.9 percent of Moore County residents so far have responded to the census. That figure includes 53 percent of Dumas residents, followed by 34.8 percent of Sunray and 21.3 per cent of Cactus residents. Nationally, 62.1 percent of people living in the United States have responded, including 56.9 percent of those living in Texas. People still have time to respond on their own by mail, telephone, or online.
With its diverse population of refugees, immigrants, and non-English speakers and relatively low per capita income, census officials say getting an accurate count in Moore County is a challenge. At the same time, it could not be more important. The Census Bureau has a constitutional mandate to make a count of residents of the United States every 10 years. The data determines political representation as well as the distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funds for health care, transportation and other services and infrastructure. Businesses also use census data to determine whether they will locate in a particular area. "A lot of people don't think about it, but your economic development … goes by those numbers. A lot of businesses won't go into communities unless they are showing (population) growth," said Moore County Judge Rowdy Rhoades. Communities have a decided interest in counting everyone, including those who may be undocumented.
Olsen says those who are worried about what use will be made of their data should rest assured: "US code title 13 is what really guides the bureau by law, and all census employees take an oath of confidentiality. We take this very seriously. If any of us were to violate that oath and reveal any information about any individual address, a householder, or a business, we can be prosecuted and would face up to five years in jail and/or up to $25,000 in fines. And this oath fines every census employee, including those hired in temporary service positions, literally for the rest of our lives, not just while we are employed by the bureau." Individually identifying, census data is not shared with law enforcement or immigration authorities.
The census count has been delayed and modified this year because of the COVID health crisis. Olsen said bureau personnel have undergone extensive training and have access to sanitizer and personal protective equipment to insure everyone's safety. "Our commitment throughout the census process has been to protect every employee and the American people through all interactions we have."
Rhoades says there is nothing for anyone to fear from the census. There are only benefits. "An accurate count is going to help everybody. It is a big thing."