Jasper, Haleyville will get internet invite first

Many local areas will get paper census forms

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Except for two cities, Walker and Winston counties will be getting paper questionnaires from the U.S. Census in March, in expectation that there will be low internet response, although they will have opportunities to respond online or by phone. 

"Most households (in the nation) will first receive a letter asking them to complete the census questionnaire online with information about how to respond online or by phone in English plus 12 non-English languages. Areas less likely to respond online, approximately 21.8 percent of households, will receive a paper questionnaire along with the invitation to respond online or over the phone," the Census Bureau said in a release Monday. 

The decision this area will mostly get questionnaires was revealed Monday by the U.S. Census by the release online of a "2020 Census Mail Contact Strategies viewer" on census.gov. 

The U.S. Census Bureau explained the viewer was created so that communities can plan for the mailings that are expected to arrive as the 2020 Census gets underway in mid-March. The map can be zoomed in to see individual counties and Census tracts. 

Most areas of the country are likely to respond online. As a result, most households will first receive a letter asking you to go online to complete the census questionnaire. These "Internet First" areas were shown in purple on a map. 

Areas that are less likely to respond online will receive a paper questionnaire along with their first invitation - although these people will also get instructions on how they can respond online or by phone. Those "Internet Choice" areas were shown on green on the map.

The map showed green, indicating a paper questionnaire, for Walker, Winston, Marion and Fayette counties, except for purple areas in the Jasper area and Haleyville areas, which were purple. 

Ignoring the 2020 Census survey one way or another will be hard. The Census Bureau indicates 95 percent of housing units will receive census invitations in the mail. The agency will send up to five mailings, to encourage people to respond online, by mail, or by phone. Every household that hasn't already responded will receive reminders - and they will eventually receive a paper questionnaire by mid-April. 

According to information distributed in August at a census meeting in Jasper, 40.6 percent of the people in Walker County live in the hard-to-count tracts. Officials said 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 have no internet access or only had dial-up access. 

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. 

Stephen Woerner, the executive director of VOICES for Alabama's Children, said before the August meeting in Jasper that his group has been working on the Census for about months, 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."

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. 

State and area officials, both in government and non-profits groups, are mounting a campaign to urge response to the questions. A lack of response and a low population count could result in the loss of a U.S. House seat for Alabama, and local governments could lost out on grants and industrial recruitment. 

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.”

"I've heard the average being between $1,500 and $1,600 a year that comes back to the State of Alabama per every individual who is counted," U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt recently told the Daily Mountain Eagle said. "So we have to make sure we count those individuals." 

Aderholt said while it is proper to make sure Census workers have the right credentials and identification, the process will be "very safe" in protecting information.

"I know a lot of people think if they disclose this information to the Census taker, who will find that information out," he said. "It carries a very stiff penalty if the Census worker or anyone discloses that information, up to five years in the penitentiary and/or a $250,000 fine, so it is very safe." 

Tracts are assigned to Internet Choice if they have lower self-response rates to the American Community Survey, and have low internet response, higher population of people age 65 or more, or low internet subscription. It is expected that these areas would benefit from an earlier paper questionnaire. 

"A decade of research and testing has determined the best way to invite everyone to respond to the 2020 Census," the Census Bureau said in a release.

In addition, all households will receive information about how to respond in 12 non-English languages online and by phone. A total of 9.3 percent of households nationwide, or about 13 million, will receive English/Spanish bilingual invitations.

The map deals with planning for 95 percent of the nation. The Census Bureau will still have to deal with 5 percent of the nation where a census taker drops off the survey at a home, or where 1 percent will likely be counted in person. 

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