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Local information session stresses what's at stake with census

Ahead of the 2020 census response period opening, U.S. Census Bureau officials and partners spoke to community members on Sunday about why it’s important to fill out the questionnaire.

The federal government only does an actual count of the population every 10 years and the Census Bureau staff wants to make sure that everyone is counted.

“We’re talking about billions of federal dollars that are distributed every year, based on census population data,” said Kathleen O’Connell, a partnership specialist with the bureau who is working in the Charlottesville area, at the session at Congregation Beth Israel.

Census data is used to redraw legislative districts, determine how many seats states get in Congress, inform how more than $675 billion in federal funding is distributed to states and communities each year for things such as health care and education and is utilized for local community planning.

The census questionnaire includes approximately 10 questions about everyone who lives in a household as of April 1.

Invitations to respond to the 2020 census will be delivered to addresses between March 12 and March 20. This year, for the first time, people can complete the questionnaire online or over the phone. Mailing in a completed questionnaire is still an option.

The George Washington Institute of Public Policy estimated that Virginia could lose up to $2,000 a year in federal funding for each person not counted.

“That’s $20,000 in a decade, which means if we miss a family of five in an apartment somewhere, that’s $100,000 for a decade that’s not going to our schools and our roads, our housing and our health care,” Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, said at the session. “We are a fast-growing community, so we need to be receiving more resources than we were a decade ago for a growing area like Charlottesville and Albemarle County.”

Certain groups — such as renters, people who live in rural areas, immigrants and non-English speakers, young children and seniors — are at risk of being undercounted.

A survey and series of focus groups completed in 2018 revealed that people might not participate in the census because they have concerns about data privacy and confidentiality, they fear their answers could be used against them and/or they distrust the state or federal government.

O’Connell said the agency is developing outreach locally through complete count committees, focusing messaging on confidentiality and on the benefits of the census and partnering with community leaders to get correct information out about the census and encourage people to complete it.

“We’re going to be having census takers that go specifically to churches, community centers, senior centers, and are there with their tablet and people can respond,” she said. “… This is a way for those people that may not answer their door, may not be home, may not feel comfortable — we’re going to be in places where they gather and may be less threatening to be able to collect those responses.”

Sunday’s event was hosted by the CBI Social Action Committee and co-sponsored by Sin Barreras.

Javier Raudales, with Sin Barreras, said the damage already has been done when there was talk about adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, but that his group is trying to combat misinformation and help ease concerns.

“Now, us as a community, Sin Barreras, found this to be very important to be part of — the complete count committee — because we want to be clear with concerns about confidentiality and about privacy,” he said. “… It’s really important I think for our community to understand that they should be filling out the census.”

The census is still hiring for temporary workers in the area. More information is available at


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