Meeting held to organize Census count in Walker

By ED HOWELL
Posted 8/1/19

A state advocacy group sponsored a Jasper meeting Wednesday to help two dozen local leaders learn how to organize themselves for helping with next year's U.S. Census count, while another meeting has …

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Meeting held to organize Census count in Walker

Posted

A state advocacy group sponsored a Jasper meeting Wednesday to help two dozen local leaders learn how to organize themselves for helping with next year's U.S. Census count, while another meeting has been arranged in Cullman out of concern about how people will be reached using the internet. 

VOICES for Alabama's Children in Montgomery, which successfully lobbied recently for local grants to Alabama communities to help in local Census work, organized the meeting at the Jasper Area Family Services Center, which allowed the two dozen participants to go into groups in time to have more interaction on a plan of action.

Maps showed the short panhandle of Walker County leading into Marion and Fayette counties, as well as southwestern Winston County, are among the hardest to count areas of the state for Census workers, with a mail rate return in that area of about 60 to 65 percent in the 2010 count. 

Overall, for Walker County alone, the county had an 80.7 percent return for Census questionnaires by mail, which was considered high, according to Rhonda Mann, VOICES' deputy director. However, that mean that Census workers had to seek out 19 percent of the county, even to homeless people. 

Also, according to a flyer distributed at the meeting, 40.6 percent of the people in Walker County live in the hard-to-count tracts. Mann said that hard-to-count people include people of color, low-income families, people who don't speak English, large and single-parent households, and people who move frequently. 

A total of 32.2 percent of Walker County households had no internet access or only had dial-up access, with Mann noting dial-up almost considered these days to being without internet at all. 

A regional meeting has been announced by U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt at Cullman Regional Medical Center on Aug. 14 at 12:30 p.m. over concerns that rural residents or older people will not have access to the internet. U.S. Census Bureau Director Dr. Steven Dillingham and Gov. Kay Ivey are expected to attend. 

A mailed invitation will be used in the mail to invite people to start the process next spring. They will be able to call or go online to do the survey. If they prefer paper, they can call to get a paper survey sent to them. 

According to the U.S. Census' website, a mailed invitation is expected to reach 95 percent of the public, while 5 percent that may not receive mail at the location (due to post office boxes and such) will have a census invitation dropped off by a census worker. 

The mailed invitation to respond will come starting around March 12, followed by reminders stretching to the end of April if one hasn't responded. After that, a follow up visit would be made. 

U.S. Census Bureau estimates show Jasper has lost 5.9 percent of its population between 2010 and 2018. AL.com reported that among Alabama cities with at least 10,000 people, Jasper had the fourth worst decline in that period. Three municipalities - Cordova, Carbon Hill and Dora - have all dropped below 2,000 in population in recent estimates, leaving only Jasper and Sumiton above that level in the county. 

In April, Ivey started a statewide outreach in initiative aimed at maximum participation among Alabamians in the 2020 census. The governor unveiled the Alabama Counts logo, introduced the state’s official 2020 census website – www.census.alabama.gov –, and named the state’s 2020 census theme of “I Count.”

"She's all in on Census, recognizing how important it is statewide," said Stephen Woerner, the executive director of VOICES for Alabama's Children, minutes before Wednesday's event started.

Woerner said his organization has been working on the Census for about six months ago, as the group produces data on children for the state, known as the Kids Count studies. 

"We started recognizing that in 2010, we missed 17,318 kids. That accounts for about $130 million over the last 10 years that Alabama missed out serving our kids, as that money went to other states," Woerner said. "So we need to count for those kids."

He said the coming Census could determine if Alabama loses one, maybe two congressional seats due to population decreases. "So what does that cost us with our voice being dispersed elsewhere, to states that don't necessarily align with Alabama?" he asked. 

Woerner quoted the U.S. Census Bureau as noting Alabama receives $7.61 billion for programs that serves children and their families. That includes $2.9 billion for Medicaid, $1.3 billion for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and $1.1 billion for the Medicaid B Supplemental Medical Insurance. 

It also includes $755 million for highway planning and construction, nearly $211 million for the National School Lunch Program, more than $188 million for Section 8 Housing Choice Vounchers, nearly $173 million for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), $113 million for the WIC nutritional program for women, infants and children, $44 million for low income home energy assistance and $29 million for foster care, among other programs. 

The $7.61 billion is "just for the Top 15 funds," saying the funding even reaches down to funding for local volunteer fire departments. "It is astonishingly deep how far Census date determines how much money is eligible to come forth," he said. "Every county has serve 100 percent of the population with whatever dollars they get. If you participate fully in the Census, you get to draw more dollars down."

By organizing to get the county's residents counted in 2010, the county will be good for the next 10 years. 

One big concern is overcoming the idea some people have that they don't want to give away private information, he said.

"Opponents on this are ignorance and apathy," Woerner said. "People either don't trust or don't understand, which is fine. those are things we can address. Distrust of government is something the Census Bureau is very aware of. They have what they call Title 13. Every Census employee swears an oath saying that it is a $750,000 fine and five years in jail if they ever divulge information in any capacity, outside of statistical data. So it is incredibly protected as any data. They can't touch it for 70 plus years." 

He said what was concerning was many questions were missed in 2010 such as whether one was over age 75, whether some were in poverty or in multi-use housing or how many children in the home. 

"All those details that the Census captures allows you to draw dollars down for that person," he said. "They look for all those details. Accounting for someone is different than accounting for who they are. So participation in the Census helps identify all the individuals and their unit characteristics in our county." 

The meeting on Wednesday was designed to ask community leaders what their locally-specific barriers and problems were for getting a head count, Woerner said, as well as which voices in the community need to be talking about it, as well as how they could be reached out to. 

"This is a working session to come up with a plan of attack, identifying your largest problems and how you as a community are going to address those specific problems, whether it is ignorance on what the Census means, or access to broadband" or other problems. He noted what might work in Mobile County may not work in Walker County. 

Woerner said his organization has worked to get funding in Montgomery to help with the statewide effort. After lobbying the Alabama Legislature during the 2019 Regular Session, the Legislature allocated $1 million to the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA).

"So there are dollars to help communities match dollars locally raised for their work" on the Census, he said. 

Ivey said in a July 1 release that ADECA will be the lead state agency for 2020 Census outreach in Alabama. For the past several months, ADECA has led the Alabama Counts initiative. The one-time grant funding is to be spent by ADECA, in coordination with the State Department of Education, to assist local community outreach efforts designed to encourage Alabama residents to complete the 2020 Census count. All grants will be awarded by Dec. 31 in preparation for the census count in March and April 2020. 

VOICES can provide information and links in general, as well as some help from specific national parters in different languages, such Latino, Hispanic and Asian. 

Anyone wanting more information from VOICES may go to their website, alavoices.org, email them at vfac@alavoices.org or call them at 334-213-2410. They also have pages on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. 

More information about Alabama Counts and the 2020 Census is available at www.census.alabama.gov.