Alabama’s low census response rate puts the state at risk of losing federal funding and representation in Washington, state officials said during a Tuesday press summit.
The state’s census participation rate is 59.8% — trailing behind the national average of 62.2%.
“Simply put, we can and must do better,” Gov. Kay Ivey said during the Zoom summit held with members of the media. “To put it plainly, 60% just won’t get it. Self-response at that level just will not cut the mustard. We remain at serious risk for losing representation and critical federal funding if we don’t achieve maximum participation. The results of our census will give us the results that we live with for the next 10 years.”
The U.S. census, taken every 10 years as required by the Constitution, determines the number of seats each state receives in the House of Representatives based on population. The census is also used to determine the level of federal funding for programs.
Alabama receives $13 billion a year in federal funding for education, Medicare and Medicaid, free and reduced-price school lunches, Head Start, Community Development Block Grants, Pell grants and student loans, highway construction, infrastructure and housing assistance.
The 2020 census marks the first time for online responses. Census responses can also be done by mailing in the census questionnaire sent to households in March or by phone by calling 844-330-2020.
Like everything else this year, the 2020 census was upended by the coronavirus pandemic.
Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs Director Kenneth Boswell, chair of the Alabama Counts! census committee, said the online questionnaire involves 10 questions that take about six minutes.
“I don’t even want to imagine losing any of those billions of dollars coming into the state and, not only that, the representation that we have the chance of losing, possibly one — right now, we would lose one — if not two,” Boswell said.
Alabama actually leads other Southern states in responses and 13 Alabama counties are above the national response rate. Shelby County has a response rate of more than 73%.
Boswell said there will be a stronger push for the rest of the summer and fall to increase Alabama’s participation by the Oct 31 deadline. The push will include an Aug. 12 statewide Drop Everything and Get Counted day when businesses will be asked to allow employees to take the census while at work. In September, the state will hold the Alabama Census Bowl Competition in schools.
Also in mid-August, census workers will visit homes where there has been no response. Workers will be taking safety precautions in light of the coronavirus pandemic, including masks and doing interviews outside, and will have a photo ID on them.
“This is a serious matter that we are undertaking and it benefits everybody in the state of Alabama,” Ivey said “The 2020 census is critical to the future of our state, and this has been made even more clear in the events that we’ve had with the coronavirus.”
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