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Census Deadline Approaches. Make Sure You Count

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From left: Birmingham City Council President William Parker; City Council Crystal Smitherman; City Councilor Hunter Williams (Birmingham City Council)
By Matt Windsor
UAB News

You have probably heard that the Census deadline is approaching, and that Alabama is currently last in the nation in Census response. If you do not complete the Census by Sept. 30, you will not be counted.

The U.S. Census Bureau is bound by law to keep all answers confidential and each Census employee takes an oath to protect personal information for life. There is no question on the Census asking about citizenship.

It’s takes 10 minutes to fill and here are few reasons why that’s a great investment:

Federal funding

According to a study from George Washington University, every person who completes the Census in Alabama is worth more than $1,500 in federal funding to the state (this is not a linear relationship, of course, but it gives you a clear idea of the money involved). This money is not just transfers to Montgomery for Medicaid, foster care, SNAP, Head Start, Section 8 housing vouchers and other programs, but allocations to cities for their programs and assistance to veterans, farmers, rural residents and other groups.

Congressional seats

The Census is the constitutionally mandated mechanism that determines how many seats each state has in the House of Representatives. Alabama’s low response rate threatens Alabamians with a loss of proportional influence in how the U.S. government spends money and passes laws.

But the Census also affects state-level representation, as it is used to draw state legislative districts. By completing your Census, you help increase the influence of your elected representative in Montgomery. And in America, many important decisions happen at the state level, rather than the national level.

Public safety

Cities and counties use the latest Census data to create 911 emergency system maps and decide where to allocate police, fire and other public safety resources. Filling out the Census increases the likelihood of a faster response the next time you have an emergency.

Attracting new businesses

Businesses look to Census counts to decide where to place new locations or to construct new malls and other retail centers. Filling out the Census increases the odds of getting a new restaurant, grocery store or other outlet near you.

Local schools

Cities and counties use the latest Census data to determine where to build new schools and how to fund existing schools. Filling out the Census means a better education for children you know and increases the chances of raises for teachers and other school staff.

Roads

The federal government uses Census data in determining road construction allocations (Alabama received more than $797 million for highway planning and construction in 2016, for example), as do states, counties and cities. Wherever you live, you probably know at least one roadway that could use expansion or repair. Filling out the Census increases the chances of that construction taking place.