Drug and alcohol education and prevention, summer youth programs, emergency home weatherization, Head Start, and the Women Infants and Children (WIC) Nutrition Program are some of the programs offered through the Community Action Partnership of Cambia County. They help some of the most at-risk populations in the region.
“In general, we serve the entire county with services for low-income residents,” Executive Director Jeff Vaughn says. “When we’re successful, somebody won’t need to use the programs anymore.”
Running these and other programs with non-profit agencies and government requires funding. Much of that funding can come directly from U.S. Census numbers or indirectly with census information that helps agencies obtain grants.
“The census is vitally important to us,” United Way of the Laurel Highlands Community Relationship Manager Matt Spangler says.
Many people consider the decennial census simply a count of all of the people in the United States, which is what the U.S. Constitution calls for as a minimum, but for each of the 23 U.S. Censuses taken, additional information has also been collected.
“All residents living in the United States are required to fill out the decennial census,” Jewel Jordan, who is with the U.S. Census Bureau Office in Philadelphia, says.
It is not information collected simply to collect data on U.S. residents. The information is used for a variety of purposes as governments determine legislatives boundaries and school districts and decide funding requirements for various programs. Non-profit organizations often use census data to support their needs when writing grants. Corporations use the data to determine where to locate new businesses. The federal government uses Census data to determine where approximately $675 billion in federal program spending will go.
“It was estimated (that) for every person not counted, Cambria County loses over $20,000 in program funding over 10 years,” Shanna Murphy Sosko, community development planner with the Cambria County Planning Commission, says.
Christy Leiato, early childhood director with the Community Action Partnership, explains that one of the most underreported populations in the census is children age 5 and under. “Parents need to understand it’s going to impact their children for the next 10 years,” she says.
By April 1, 2020, every home will be mailed an invitation to take part in the 2020 Census. The U.S. Constitution requires the census be taken every 10 years, and by law, you must participate. Most people receive the short form, which are just a handful of questions that can be answered by phone, by mail, or online. The census has been conducted every 10 years since 1790, but this is the first time that census has offered an online response option.
Money for new schools and new roads start with census data that identify growing populations that need to ease overcrowding classrooms and high-traffic roads. Where the need is greater, more money for the appropriate programs is sent to those areas.
Just as the law requires all U.S. residents, whether citizens or not, to participate in the census, the law also protects the information collected. According to the U.S. Census Bureau website, “Your answers can only be used to produce statistics – they cannot be used against you in any way. By law, all responses to U.S. Census Bureau household and business surveys are kept completely confidential.” This means that no government agency or court can use your information. It won’t be used by the sheriff’s department to locate a felon or ICE to find illegal immigrants. Income you list won’t be used in divorce case or your name won’t be used to track down a deadbeat parent.
To help ensure the best count possible for the census and also that Cambria County receives its share of the $685 billion, the county formed a Complete Count Committee.
“It is comprised of approximately 20 individuals representing various county and municipal agencies, mostly who deal with public and social services,” Sosko says.
The Complete Count Committee also formed a six-member sub-committee to work on ways to improve awareness and encourage census participation through marketing. Much of this work will be conducted through local agencies and businesses.
“Our focus is mostly in the City of Johnstown, due to the census tracts with the lowest participation rates are located within the City,” Sosko says. Johnstown’s participation rate in the 2010 Census was around 24 percent, which may have cost the city millions in funding. For every 50 people not counted, $1 million in funding was lost since the 2010 Census.
“We want everybody to be counted,” Spangler says.
Besides allocating program funding, census numbers are used to draw legislative district lines. The state has been making a big awareness push for the census because population decreases point to the state losing one of its congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives. Such a loss would also cause state legislative districts to be redrawn as well.
The goal is to have all of the marketing efforts come to a head around the same time residents start receiving the invitation to participate in the census.
Also, while the U.S. Census Bureau will have census takers out and about tracking down people who don’t return their census forms, the committee will have volunteers at various location around the county ready to help anyone who might need help completing the census form.
The online census form goes live March 12, but the official Census Day is April 1. If you haven’t submitted your census form by May, you can expect a census taker to show up at your door. The president will receive the official counts by the end of this year. By March of 2021, the states will receive the numbers that they will use to redraw their legislative districts.