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Maine has one of the lowest response rates so far this year to the U.S. Census.
Only 55.8 percent of Maine households had responded to the survey, compared with 63.4 percent of households nationally, according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau. Only three states — West Virginia, Alaska and New Mexico — had lower response rates than Maine.
This isn’t just a matter of not filling out government paperwork (which can be done online). A low census response rate could cost Maine millions of dollars in federal funding, and even a seat in Congress in coming years.
Federal programs that use census population data to determine funding include Medicaid, Head Start and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP and formerly called food stamps, as well as funding for highways and energy assistance for low-income families. States, tribes and local governments also use census counts for their planning and programs. Many businesses also use census data when determining where to open new locations.
The federal government has the ability to estimate Maine’s population without the census. The bureau estimated that its official 2010 count in Maine missed about 8,500 people in 2010. As a result, a study from the GW Institute of Public Policy found, the state lost $1,642 in federal funding per year for each person not counted, totaling nearly $140 million over 10 years.
The Census Bureau has used many different methods to try to count Americans, as required by the U.S. Constitution. The Census Bureau sent mailers to every household between March 12 and 20. In May, the bureau hand delivered census packages to people who get their household mail through Post Office boxes.
Maine has the second highest percentage of post office box users — 14 percent — in the northeast region. In Piscataquis County, 40 percent of residents are in this category. The county’s census response rate so far is just 38.4 percent, the lowest in the state. Sagadahoc County, so far, has the state’s highest response rate at 65.6 percent.
Census workers are currently visiting households that have yet to fill out a questionnaire. For those concerned about their privacy, individual and household data cannot be shared. The bureau only releases aggregated information. The official census does not ask for your Social Security number, credit card information or political party affiliation. This year’s questionnaire does not ask about citizenship.
The Census Bureau had reasonably asked for additional time to finish its work, which has been delayed by coronavirus. After initially agreeing to this request, which would allow data collection to continue through Oct. 31, the Trump administration reversed course last week and data collection will stop on Sept. 30.
Sen. Angus King this week joined a group of 23 mostly Democratic U.S. senators in asking the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, to allow it to extend its work through October.
“A full accounting of everyone present in the United States is required by the Constitution and is critical to the allocation of trillions of dollars of federal funding and proper Congressional apportionment,” the senators wrote in a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. “Data derived from the Decennial Census influences decisions made across all levels of government and by businesses of all sizes. Rushing the completion of the Census, distorting response rates, and short-circuiting data assurance activities will have disastrous consequences that will reverberate for years to come.”
Maine residents can’t change the administration’s deadline, but you can make sure you are counted in this important work.
If you haven’t filled out your census questionnaire, doing so today will help ensure an accurate count of your community, which will impact decisions about funding, planning and representation for the next decade.