Efforts organized by area municipal leaders to ensure a complete census count are in high gear despite COVID-19, officials said.
The U.S. Census is mandated every 10 years by the federal Constitution to establish governmental representation. The count also impacts funding, which is why towns want to be sure everyone is included.
“The census is important,” said Farmville planning director Justin Oakes. “There is a lot in local say with federal funding. If there has been growth in the community since 2010, we want to see that reflected … We want an accurate count so we can get as much funding as we can,”
“Every one person counted is equivalent to $16,000 for the community over 10 years. That is really why it’s so important to count everybody in town and have a good response rate,” Oakes said.
Funding received from the federal sources is funneled back into the local government in various ways, according to Oakes.
Funding can be used toward road repairs, infrastructure repairs, schools, parks, and a multitude of other town projects that will enhance the town.
This year’s census is also important to help determine the state’s number of congressional representatives.
“Representation in D.C. is tired to the population numbers. There is talk of the possibility that North Carolina may add a representative. To get that extra representation in D.C. is important,” Oakes said.
Efforts to collect census information began and March. Information also helps to recruit businesses to the area.
“A lot of businesses looking to relocate or start new do look at the population to make their decision. If we can show Farmville is growing, we can look at bringing more businesses in Farmville or Pitt County,” Miller said.
Towns like Fountain and Farmville were prepared to host events to help boost participation within their communities. Both the town of Fountain and Farmville Public Library’s Census Day Celebration, meant to be held today, were postponed.
“The census is available to take online. Not everybody has a computer or internet access,” said Farmville Public Library Director David Miller, adding the library’s resources would have been used for those in need of assistance.
Other events also were in the works to boost response. “We had additional items planned, but with the coronavirus they have been put on hold,” Oakes said.
Miller added, “When things are OK and it’s OK to have a large gathering, will have these events.”
Before the pandemic, the Farmville Planning Department worked alongside the Pitt County Complete Count Committee to help promote the census.
“The town also decided to take initiative to develop its own complete count committee,” Oakes said, adding members included community leaders in Farmville.
“We wanted to think of the best ways to get everyone counted,” Oakes said.
A focus was placed in areas that provided group housing.
“Individuals that live in group quarters have a responsive rate that is lower. We really wanted to get the word out and promote it as best we could,” Oakes said.
Each household is required to complete the census and should provide an accurate account of the persons living in the household.
“If they are living at that location, they should be counted regarding of age,” Oakes said, adding the count include grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins living in the house along with children.
While working to increase response rates, municipalities have also been working to battle misinformation and ease worries over completing the census.
“Fountain lost a lot of money because everybody in Fountain was not counted. We’re making sure everybody gets counted,” said Fountain Mayor Shirley Mitchell.
The census is an independent agency. The information collected depicts an accurate count of persons living in a household.
“They will not be asking about your financial situation. They are only doing a head count of whose in the house,” Mitchell said.
Data collected by the census is kept confidential and can only be used by the U.S. Census Bureau. Data collected cannot be turned over to any other agencies such as Immigration and Custom Enforcement, social services or to law enforcement for any reasons, according to Mitchell.
“It is a violation of federal law if they release this information. None of that information collected is used to verify finances or citizenship. There is a lot of concern and a lot of distrust with the government. The way the census is structured, it can not be used to harm any of its representatives,” Oakes said.
Collected information is kept confidential for 70 years, according to Miller.
“A lot of people use that information for genealogy research. Their family members can go back and see where folks were living and a lot of folks come to the library to do that research,” Miller said.
As of April 26, North Carolina has a self-response rate of 48.7 percent. Pitt County has a 46.7 percent response rate while Greene County has a 44.6 percent rate.
Greene County has partnered with Greene Lamp Community Action and the Neuse Regional Library system to form a team to help promote the 2020 Census.
“We are trying to partner with people to get the best count we can. It’s very important,” said Greene County manager Kyle DeHaven.
Winterville leads municipalities in Pitt County with a response rate of 59.6 percent.
“The census is important to Winterville for a number of reasons. Mainly it ensures that we get the proper representation in government, which helps our community get its fair share of the federal funds spent on school, roads, public works and other vital programs. The town can use census data to help guide development, to help with recovery efforts after a natural disaster, and to help with the planning and funding for infrastructure,” said Town Clerk Don Harvey.
Farmville has a 47.6 percent response rate.
“In 2010, Farmville had the highest response rate in Pitt County,” Oakes said, adding the town is aiming to to garner the highest response rate for the 2020 census.
Ayden has a 46 percent response rate while Grifton has a 41 percent response rate.
The town of Grifton worked with the Mid-East Commission and Pitt County committee to help promote the count there, according to interim town manager Mark Warren.
Fountain has a 16.8 percent response rate and Falkland has with a 7.5 percent rate.
In Greene County, Snow Hill leads the way with a 50.9 percent response rate, while Hookerton has a 43.8 percent.
“The population of Snow Hill is extremely important in the allocation of state and federal resources which are distributed on a per capita basis” said Snow Hill town manager John Bauer. “Obviously, accurate numbers are paramount for the election process as well as future economic development activities. The census is very important because these will be the official numbers we will utilize over the next ten years.”
Walstonburg has a 25.2 percent response rate.