The Transylvania Times -

County Census Numbers Lagging-Brevard NC

 

Last updated 6/24/2020 at 3:31pm



In an effort to boost county response rate numbers for the 2020 Census in Transylvania County, local advocate Carol Gardner is campaigning in her community, Balsam Grove, to complete the decennial survey.

There are several new challenges with households in rural areas completing the census because field operations, or door-to-door surveys, have been suspended due to COVID-19, and many people in these rural areas use a centralized post office box for their mail, though the U.S. Census doesn’t send its questionnaires to P.O. boxes because they aren’t classified as a household.

Though one can now fill out the questionnaire online, many also don’t have Wi-Fi in rural areas, such as Balsam Grove, so Gardner began brainstorming ways to get households to complete the form.

She set up a table at God’s Way Fellowship Church in Balsam Grove, where there is internet access and where MANNA FoodBank from Asheville works with the church to distribute food to those in need every other Saturday.

As people get their food boxes, the distributer then asks if they have filled out the census.

If they haven’t, Gardner does it online for them.

“We’ve gotten, so far, 28 people that we’ve counted since we’ve started doing it,” she said.

As a result of setting up at the church, the Balsam Grove Community Center, a yard sale, promoting on Facebook and putting up flyers at the post office, she said Balsam Grove’s numbers “have gone up three percentage points.”

“I’ve had no one say they didn’t want to fill it out; they just didn’t know without having someone come to their door or getting a survey in the mail,” she said.

Another of her ideas to bring up the numbers was a community challenge.

“Since none of the nine community centers are doing events, which help pay the power bill each month,” she said, “I came up with the idea of having each center put $50 in a pot, and whoever has the highest percentage increase between now and Aug. 1 gets the whole pot. At the time, only Cedar Mountain was willing to do it, but I didn’t hear from the other ones.”

Though it didn’t pan out, she is still willing to do it if she can get each of the communities to participate.

“We stand to lose so much money,” she said. “I worry up here in Balsam Grove about our post office. We’ve gone from being a full-time post office to where it’s only open from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. I can just see it going, with it being our biggest service other than roads that we use up here. We don’t want to lose our post office. I don’t want to have to drive to Rosman to pick up my mail, and I live on a private road down a little dirt lane that’s not a state maintained road. They don’t deliver mail to my house.”

She said that though the county ranked low in response rate, it’s only as low as the communities that compose the county.

“If you don’t drill down to the community level, then you really aren’t seeing where your strengths and your weaknesses are,” Gardner said. “If I can boost Balsam Grove, it’s going to boost Transylvania County.”

Current Census Numbers

North Carolina remains behind the national response rate of 62 percent (91.2 million in households) in the 2020 Census, with a 58 percent (2.9 million in households) rate of response as of June 22.

Minnesota has the highest response rate at 71 percent (1.8 million in households), with Alaska ranking the lowest at 47 percent (150,000 million in households).

Transylvania County is at 48 percent, with Union County ranked as having the highest response rate at 69 percent, and Avery County ranked at having the lowest response rate at 28 percent.

Henderson County is ranked 26th of the 100 counties in North Carolina, with a response rate of 60 percent, and a potential loss of $5 million in funds.

Buncombe County is ranked at 36, with a response rate of 57 percent and a potential loss of $12 million in funds.

“Transylvania County is currently 77th of 100 counties for census response in the state,” said County Manager Jaime Laughter. “For every person not counted, it is estimated as a loss of $1,623 in federal aid that comes to our state and $205 in state aid that funds services based on the census. These are annual figures of tax dollars our citizens pay that do not come back to Transylvania County to help fund education, DSS (Department of Social Services), transportation and more.”

Transylvania County stands to lose in total $100,000 to $250,000 in funds, with the region of Henderson, Buncombe, Madison and Transylvania counties standing to lose around $17.5 million in federal funding for critical services, such as schools, roads and fire departments.

Among cities in North Carolina, Brevard has a response rate ranked at 57 percent, with the highest ranked in response being Bear Grass at 85 percent, and the lowest being Fontana Dam at .9 percent.

The U.S. Census Bureau is encouraging households to respond now by completing and mailing back the paper questionnaire, responding online at http://www.2020 census.gov or by phone at (844) 330-2020, using the provided Census ID.

The online survey takes about 5 minutes to complete.

Census workers are dropping off census materials at the front doors of roughly 6.8 million households nationwide, including Puerto Rico. Census workers began delivering materials on March 15 but suspended field operations on March 18 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NC Counts Coalition, a nonprofit that serves as a hub to facilitate cross-sector coordination among government, planning and community organizations, service providers and businesses to achieve a complete and accurate census count, reported that the census directly affects the allocation of $23.8 billion annually in federal resources to North Carolina

“Additionally, it provides key decision makers with the information they need to ensure that government resources are directed strategically to the state’s communities. Also, the census ensures that communities are appropriately represented in the statehouse and in Congress. With an accurate 2020 count, North Carolina is projected to gain a seat in the House of Representatives, increasing its representation from 13 to 14 representatives. North Carolina is ranked 34 out of 50 states and Washington, D.C., for census self-response participation,” the Coalition reported in a press release.

As of April 13, over 70 million households had responded, according to the bureau, representing over 48 percent of all households in America.

The last census taken was in 2010, and it involved the field operation of door-to-door surveys in some areas.

Once the surveys are mailed out, the deadline is usually July 31, but it has been extended to Oct. 31.

The deadline for completion on processing the entirety of the data and delivering it to Congress is Dec. 3, but that has been extended to April 30, 2021.

As previously reported, Laughter said public participation in the census means more funds for the community.

“Most citizens pay federal income tax, and if the count is not accurate, those funds go to the jurisdictions that reflect the higher population,” Laughter said. “This can be particularly challenging in a community like ours, where part-time residents claim their permanent status elsewhere, because when those calculations are completed, the funding goes to those other places to support those federally funded infra-structures, even though the seasonal influx requires meeting some of those same needs.

“Some of those services are provided through county government in North Carolina because counties are charged with providing essential services, including social services, elections, public health, public education and emergency services, including law enforcement, emergency management, etc. Sometimes it is federal funding distributed through the state on census counts and sometimes it is allotments from the state that are using census figures as baselines, such as to determine how many school-aged children live in a county.”

The census data is used in other ways, such as to determine policy decisions and other funding streams on a state and federal level.

“The census helps determine voting districts and is even being used now as federal and state leaders attempt to model COVID-19 spread and plan for resource responses,” Laughter said. “All of these reasons make it very important that we have an accurate count in our community.”

 
 

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