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Oregon stands to gain from Census

The 2020 Census is starting soon, and despite concerns at the federal level that the Census Bureau isn’t ready for the job, Oregon is dedicating resources to making sure the count is as complete as possible. The state has a great deal to gain by making sure every person in its borders gets counted, regardless of ethnicity, citizenship status or financial circumstance.

How much to gain? For starters, $3,200 in tax money flows into the state for every person counted. Those dollars help pay for health care through Medicaid, schools and transportation projects.

In addition, however, Oregon is likely to add a sixth congressional district if population projections are accurate. Having six House members in addition to two senators would boost the state’s clout in Washington, D.C., not to mention adding an Electoral College vote in the 2024 presidential election.

The Government Accountability Office issued a report Wednesday warning that the Census Bureau faces “significant risks” that could “adversely impact cost, quality and schedule” of the 2020 Census. Among the GAO’s concerns: the bureau is behind on hiring staff and recruiting community partners to help educate the public, and lagging on developing technology and preventing security risks.

Oregon, however, has dedicated $10 million — $7.5 million in state money and $2.5 million from philanthropic organizations — to getting the word out to the public about the importance of participating.

Here in the Rogue Valley, an organization called We Count Oregon is focusing on groups that are historically undercounted in the Census: children, Native Americans, immigrants, minorities, non-English speakers, the disabled, the LGBTQ community and families living in rural areas.

It’s important to understand that the Census is just a count of every person residing in the United States, along with demographic information useful to government planners, researchers and others. And, because it determines the allocation of federal resources to states and localities, it’s vitally important.

Census data is also important to help enforce laws against discrimination based on national origin. Specific personal information collected during the Census is kept strictly confidential. By law, the Census Bureau cannot share this information with any other government agency, including the IRS and the FBI.

The citizenship status of residents does not affect whether they are counted in the Census. Non-citizens are entitled to representation even if they are not eligible to vote. After all, children who are citizens but too young to vote are counted because they, too, are entitled to representation.

Completing the Census form will be easier than ever this year because it can be done online for the first time, starting March 12. Paper forms can also be submitted by those without an internet connection.

Look for an official mailing from the Census Bureau next month. Be sure to return it promptly or fill it out online, or you’ll get a follow-up, in-person visit from a Census worker.

Either way, you’ll be helping your state, your community and your country work better for all of us.