Census count will affect federal funding, congressional clout for Peninsula

Editor’s Note: This is the last of a two-part series on the census. The first part was published on Sunday.

Ten years have passed since the U.S. Census Bureau conducted its decennial springtime count of American citizens, asking respondents to fill out a long form many found daunting, census officials said last week.

Local government and census officials are piecing together groundwork for an effort that will once again be part of a push to touch at least 38,000 households on the North Olympic Peninsula, but with just 10 questions that apply to each household resident.

That’s the number of households in Clallam and Jefferson counties as of 2000, according to the census, but it’s a number sure to increase, given double-digit increases in population in both counties.

Clallam County’s population changed from 64,525 in 2000 to 71,021 in 2008, a 10 percent increase, according to the census.

Jefferson County’s population changed from 25,953 in 2000 to 29,542 in 2008, a 14 percent increase.

Census forms will be mailed out or dropped off at most residences in mid-March and are due April 1, National Census Day.

Residents can preview the questionnaire and other census-related information online at www.2010.census.gov.

The federal government is required to conduct the “actual enumeration” of the population under Article 1, Section 2, of the Constitution.

Answering the census form will means federal dollars for a wide spectrum of expenditures, from roads to children’s health care, because much funding is based on population, officials from Clallam and Jefferson counties said last week.

Questions

The form includes questions about gender, date of birth, race, the household’s phone number if there’s a question about the answers and the all-important first question: “How many people were living or staying in this house, apartment or mobile home on April 1, 2010?”

“It’s very important in a place like Clallam County, where our population is pretty small compared to the state as a whole, to make sure that we don’t get penalized because we don’t have an accurate count of the residents,” said Clallam County Community Development Director John Miller, who attended an area planning meeting on the census on Friday in Kitsap County.

For government entities, every questionnaire returned is worth $1,400 annually — $14,000 over 10 years between each census — from 170 federal programs, said Deni Luna, spokeswoman for the Census Bureau’s regional office in Bothell.

Washington’s increase in population over the last decade also is expected to mean more representation for the state’s citizens with the addition of a 10th member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Miller said.

To get out the 2010 count, Miller is helping to organize Clallam’s Complete Count Committee.

The Census Bureau is urging counties to form the committees to help with the agency’s $300 million nationwide effort to get out the count.

The Clallam committee already includes the county commissioners’ chairman, Mike Doherty.

The goal is to include 25 to 30 community leaders by the time residents receive their questionnaire in mid-March, Miller said.

Miller is planning a Complete Count Committee meeting — open to the public — for the week of Jan. 18, though a time and place have not been set.

In addition, a public open house is slated for 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 22, at the Census Bureau’s Silverdale office, 9481 Silverdale Way, Suite 101 (360-447-4470) that will include speakers, entertainment, food and explanations of how the census works.

“We’ll be beating the drum for getting as many people in Clallam County as we can, to keep the enthusiasm up, to get people to comply with mail-in forms or talk to the [census] person who comes to your house, and the importance of getting people to be counted,” Miller said.

Jefferson County

Jefferson County is not planning to establish a Complete Count Committee, said Al Scalf, director of the department of community development.

He, county Commissioner Phil Johnson and county Public Health Supervisor Julia Danskin will reach out by e-mail “to every agency, jurisdiction, individual county government office, anyone we can find on our e-mail tree,” Scalf said, using a phrase he repeatedly used during a brief interview:

“Everybody counts.”

That includes the homeless, who will be numerated during one night at the end of March, their locations based on information from local officials familiar with where they lay their heads, said Silverdale census office manager Brian Maule, supervisor for a five-county region covering the North Olympic Peninsula and Kitsap, Grays Harbor and Mason counties.

“We count people where they sleep,” Maule said.

“That’s how we count where you live. Where you live is where you sleep.”

The count will include foreign exchange students, Maule added.

“The Constitution says to count all residents, so that’s what we do,” he said.

The count also includes illegal immigrants, who are not subject to prosecution for filling out the forms and who will be urged to fill out the questionnaires by community members the agency is hoping to enlist in the effort, Maule said.

Delivering the forms

Most residents will receive their forms in mid-March in two ways, depending on how they receive their mail.

Those with post office boxes will have their forms dropped off on their doorsteps by census workers.

Those who receive their mail at their street addresses will receive census questionnaires in their mailboxes.

Makah tribal members, all of whom have post office boxes, will be visited personally by census takers because the tribe’s location is so remote, Miller said.

Households that don’t mail back the forms will get a visit from a census worker.

If census officials don’t receive the forms after the first week in April, residents will be mailed a reminder.

Census workers will visit the house several times in person to ask that the census form be mailed in, Luna said.

The numerators “have to actually go back until they see someone several times and they say ‘no,'” Luna said.

‘Just mail it’

“The easiest thing is, if people want to make it simple, just mail it. If people don’t answer it, we’ll ask the neighbors. We’ll get the information however we can.”

Clallam County Commission Mike Chapman said the faster that residents fill out the census, the less likely it is they’ll get a visit.

“The bottom line is, the census is required by the Constitution,” he said.

Not filling out the form also is a federal offense.

Anyone over 18 who refuses or intentionally doesn’t complete a questionnaire or answer a census taker’s questions can be fined up to $5,000.

But Luna said the penalty “really hasn’t been enforced.”

Concerns, such as the well-publicized confidentiality issues posed by Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who has refused to complete her census form, have been addressed, Luna said.

Names of census respondents and their answers are kept in separate data bases, and the individual names are not released for 72 years, Luna said.

Any agency or individual that releases information about individuals is subject to a $250,000 fine and up to five years in prison.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that Census data can be kept confidential.

In Baldridge v. Shapiro, the court ruled that Essex County, N.J., did not have a right, under the Freedom of Information Act, to lists of addresses compiled by the census.

“Congress has provided that assurances that information furnished by individuals is to be treated as confidential,” the court ruled.

“No discretion is provided to the Census Bureau on whether or not to disclose such data.”

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Staff writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at [email protected]

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