Time’s running out for Minnesota with US Census deadline looming
With hundreds of millions in federal funding and a congressional seat on the line, Minnesotans are running out of time to fill out the U.S. Census and five local counties in the central region of the state are lagging far behind.
Time is running out for Minnesotans to report for the 2020 Census during a pivotal year that could determine whether the state has seven or eight congressional districts, as well as hundreds of millions in federal funding during one of the worst economic crises of the century.
The U.S. Census Bureau announced in early August it would be cutting the counting period by roughly a month — pulling the end date back from Oct. 31 to Sept. 30 — and local counties are falling behind in self-reporting metrics. Federal, county and local officials are urging residents to complete the census before the deadline.
In a mid-September letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham, Gov. Tim Walz urged federal authorities to reconsider the scaleback, characterizing the move as one that would likely hamper democratic representation and threaten future economic opportunities for Minnesotans.
Do your part
Minnesota residents are strongly encouraged to take part in the 2020 U.S. Census, with three options available to self-report:
Participants in the 2020 Census can do so online by visiting 2020Census.gov .
They can self-report via phone — call 844-330-2020 — with phone lines open 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. central time, including evenings and weekends.
Or participants can submit their census report by paper. For households that have not yet responded online or by phone, they have received — or will receive — a paper form of the questionnaire.
“By your own calculations made when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the October 31 date is crucial for the Census Bureau to be able to meet its constitutional obligation and do so in a way that does not jeopardize the public health,” stated the letter from Walz. “As our state works to recover and rebuild in the eventual wake of the pandemic and the economic crisis it has spawned, having a complete and accurate count of all those living in Minnesota is critical to properly directing the resources we need to return to prosperity.”
Much is at stake for the state of Minnesota, which was awarded one of the last congressional seats — the state’s eighth — after the 2010 Census, while bureau representatives note Minnesota is in the same situation this year, with federal representation and funding on the line. Minnesota is leading the nation in self-response rates at 74.6%, while the national average sits at 66%. This compares favorably to 2010, when Minnesota also led the nation with a self-response rate of 74.1% and the national average was 66.5%. The 8th Congressional District is currently self-reporting at 60.3%.
However, these numbers reflect poorly in the seven-county area covered by the Brainerd Dispatch. The following are self-response rates for local counties:
Aitkin County self-response rate: 38.6%.
Cass County self-response rate: 38.4%.
Crow Wing County self-response rate: 53.2%.
Mille Lacs County self-response rate: 64.5%.
Morrison County self-response rate : 68.9%.
Todd County self-response rate: 59.7%.
Wadena County self-response rate: 66.3%.
On a more localized level for Crow Wing County , the cities of Brainerd and Baxter clock in at 69.9% and 81.5% respectively, forming both the most densely populated area, as well as the highest reporting area of Crow Wing County. Northern portions of the county, which include Fifty Lakes, Manhattan Beach, Crosslake and Emily, are some of the lowest reporting, with tracts in this area reporting 29.3%, 31.3%, and 32.5% self-response rates. The county also fares poorly in its southeastern quartile that includes Garrison, White Hawk and Pine Center, clocking self-response rates for tracts in this area at 32.5% and 39.9% respectively. Portions of the county’s central-western edge, which include Breezy Point and parts of Unorganized Territory, are showing lower totals as well, with both tracts in this area “below water” statistically at 33.3% and 46.7%.
Local government administrators — Crow Wing County Administrator Tim Houle and Baxter City Administrator Brad Chapulis — said the census plays a significant role in millions upon millions of dollars local governments are allocated. If the final census tally doesn’t pan out, these funds will go elsewhere and local governments will likely have to raise taxes to compensate, Houle and Chapulis said. These funds play a vital role in city capital investments, road projects, public safety, health care, human services, education and more.
“We really need to make sure that everyone gets counted. We’re not going to go counting cemeteries, but we want to make sure that everybody who lives here, who is a resident, should be properly counted,” Houle said. “We’re talking millions of dollars.”
Both men also noted the COVID-19 crisis and related economic crash only intensified the need for these funds all the more. Counties depend heavily on these funding sources, Houle said, but many cities — especially those leaning on hefty Local Government Aid funding — may be particularly vulnerable in the months ahead. Without federal dollars to use and with a struggling tax base, Houle said, it could spell trouble for many municipalities.
In terms of long-term economic growth, Chapulis noted businesses — from powerful multinational corporations and franchise chains, down to little mom and pop shops on Main Street — use U.S. Census data to make calculated decisions. He said this can range from the decision to expand on a property or order new products to sell, to the decision to establish a new foothold in the community that could provide millions in revenue, new jobs, and boost the local community.
“It's important,” Chapulis said of the census. “If you choose not to participate, you are
taking away a voice and potential dollars for local units of government — from the township and city levels, all the way up to the state level — from being able to provide the level of services that individuals are expecting of the government.”
In addition, Houle said people need to be more active in their self-reporting, as COVID-19 has hamstrung some efforts to get census-takers out and knocking doors. It’s a matter of health and public safety, he said, which could in turn further exacerbate lagging reporting numbers in central Minnesota if census-takers aren’t able to reach some residences.
Census-takers started going door to door Aug. 11 and are working through Sept. 30. Previously, plans were for the count to continue until Oct. 31. The U.S. Census Bureau notes census employees adhere to social distancing guidelines and are provided with personal protective equipment.
Crow Wing County residents are invited to apply online for census-taker positions at 2020census.gov/jobs . Positions — such as census-taker — will be compensated at $19 per hour for at least five hours of work per week.
GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5859. Follow at www.twitter.com/glbrddispatch .