By Rob Hites
Published: April 6, 2009
One interesting process the founding fathers included in the U.S. Constitution is the requirement that “the government shall conduct a census of the people every ten years.” Little did they know that in 2009, the task of counting each and every individual in the United States would involve a tabulation of more than 350 million people in 50 states.
As we prepare for the 2010 census, I hope you recognize the importance of participating in the process. The census is one of the most important planning tools our community has. It is also used to determine the distribution of congressional seats to states and to distribute $300 billion in federal funds to local, state and tribal governments each year.
Many federal and state programs are tagged to population. The results of the census may mean a gain or loss of real dollars to many Iredell County programs.
As population changes, communities are eligible for different federal and state programs. As populations increase, the public health sector may collect higher reimbursements for Medicare and Medicaid. This significantly lowers the losses that hospitals take when providing indigent care. Cities and counties are eligible for urban programs not offered to smaller communities. One of the formulas for the state sales tax is based on population.
As you can imagine, it is extremely important for the community to work with the U.S. Census Bureau to ensure that each and every individual is counted.
On Friday, local mayors, county commissioners and city and county managers met for lunch and discussed forming a “Complete Count Committee” coordinated by the regional staff of the U.S. Census Bureau. The group discussed the importance of the census and the challenges we face in Iredell County in achieving a complete count of our residents.
Many people misunderstand the U.S. Census and believe their information will be shared with the IRS, the Department of Social Services or the Immigration and Naturalization Service. They are reluctant to respond to the census or cooperate with a door-to-door census takers for fear of being “reported.” The individual information received by the Census Bureau is protected by law from being shared with any other agency of the federal or state governments. It is a felony to release the individual information of a census participant.
The job of the “Complete Count Committee” is to help the community become comfortable with the census process and to quell fears that different groups have that the census is a means of “keeping track of them.”
The Census Bureau is extremely interested in an accurate count and asks localities to help them reach all segments of society — from the single family homeowner to the homeless person living under a bridge. This attitude is very helpful to communities because many times the groups that are hardest to count are also the groups that require the most expenditure of public money for care.
In the coming months all of the governments in Iredell County will begin an effort to educate the county’s residents in the purpose of the census, its confidentiality and especially, the benefits to the community when everyone voluntarily participates. Through the work of the “Complete Count Committee” we hope to reach all segments of the Iredell County community and prepare them for the upcoming census.
The Census Bureau has streamlined the process for this decade and will no longer use the cumbersome “long form” that confused and threatened many citizens in the past. The new form is quick and easy to fill out and is intended to count people rather than intrude into every facet of their personal life. Officials say it will only take 10 minutes to complete.
The opportunity for higher federal reimbursements, grant opportunities afforded to larger communities, and the knowledge that the proportion of our sales tax dollars is commensurate with our population will aid our local elected leaders in keeping the local tax burden as low as possible.
On April 1, 2010, our nation will be counted — every person, whoever they are, wherever they live.
Statesville and Iredell County depend on you to not only take part in the census, but to encourage others to fill out their forms. For some, the census may just be numbers, but these numbers actually tell our story — about who we are and how we are changing.
Rob Hites is Statesville’s city manager.