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Despite pandemic, census count is still ongoing

With so much revolving around the COVID-19 pandemic, it is easy to forget that 2020 is a census year.

Wednesday, April 1, was designated Census Day, a day that was to include an event at the Austin Public Library. Because of COVID-19 prompting the City of Austin to close the library, the event was cancelled, adding to the challenges of getting people to answer the census and be counted.

“Right now, no one is hearing the census message because the coronavirus message is so loud,” said Austin City Clerk Ann Kasel, who has been proactive in efforts to make census information available.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 36.2 percent of households have responded to the 2020 Census since invitations began arriving in mailboxes in mid-March.

As of March 30, 45.3 percent of Mower County residents have responded to the census, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Statewide, Rock County in southwest Minnesota has the most respondents at 51.9 percent, while Mahnomen County in northwest Minnesota has the fewest, with only 4.8 percent having responded.

In 2010, 75.3 percent of Mower residents responded, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In a message posted Wednesday morning on his Facebook page, Gov. Tim Walz said counting all Minnesotans is “absolutely critical.”

“If we miss someone, that’s $28,000 of lost funding that makes our schools stronger, our healthcare system stronger, and our state stronger,” he said.

But not responding to the census data has other consequences.

“People don’t realize that companies five years from now, when they’re looking to set up (a business) at a location, use the Census Bureau data,” Kasel said. “It’s not just representation and federal funding; it’s used for many different things.”

Kasel said that she will be meeting with school officials next week to discuss alternate forms of census outreach. Last week, the schools sent a message via the Parent Portal about the census.

“Our original plan was to have information on the laptops for the kids, but now those laptops are being utilized for remote learning,” Kasel said. “Unfortunately, we aren’t able to provide access to the library computers for the census, and that’s a big hurdle for us to overcome. We’re waiting on guidance from the Census Bureau.”

But while time is a factor, the time it takes to answer the 2020 Census invitation is not.

“The best way is to fill it out from the comfort of your own home,” Kasel said. “You can do it online or on the phone. It only takes a few minutes. You will also get a paper questionnaire before someone knocks on your door.”

When filling out the 2020 Census, the U.S. Census Bureau reminds people to:

• Respond for where you live as of April 1;

• Include everyone who usually lives and sleeps in your home as of April 1, even if they are staying somewhere else temporarily. This includes relatives, friends, roommates and anyone else who lives and sleeps in your home most of the time — even children under age five and babies born on or before April 1, even if they are still in the hospital.

• Count college students where they live while attending school. If they live on campus in university/college housing such as dorms or fraternity/sorority houses, they will be counted by school officials and do not need to respond. However, if they live off campus in private housing or apartments, they should respond to the census on their own using their off-campus address even if they are currently staying elsewhere.

More information, including 59 non-English language (and American Sign Language) guides and videos, can be found at 2020census.gov.

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