Local representatives stress importance of Iron County residents being counted in 2020 Census

Photo courtesy United State's Census Bureau, St. George News

CEDAR CITY —  Local Iron County and Cedar City representatives are encouraging all Iron County residents to complete the 2020 Census, saying the area’s infrastructure and programs rely on federal funding tied to the census.

Iron County Commissioner Mike Bleak told Cedar City News Iron County, and Utah generally, relies on federal funding, which is determined through the census.

“It’s so important, because, like it or not, we rely on the federal government for a lot,” Iron County Commissioner Mike Bleak told Cedar City News. “State-level government could never afford to maintain all of our own infrastructure. Unfortunately, we are very reliant on the federal government. A lot of the funding for a ton of different programs is based on the census, and it’s only counted every 10 years. So these statistics are only looked at every 10 years so it’s important that we get a good count.”

Bleak said examples of the funding reliant on the census include infrastructure, but also Medicaid, Medicare, the Head Start program through Southern Utah University, interest rates on student loans and grants for education.

Cedar City Councilman Scott Phillips added other programs to that list, such as the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Act Program. Phillips also said it was estimated Iron County was undercounted by 25% during the 2010 Census.

A screenshot of the 2020 Census website, 2020census.gov, March 13, 2020 | Photo by Kelsey Cooke, St George News / Cedar City News

“That’s anywhere from four to five hundred-thousand people in the state that weren’t counted,” Phillips said. “That represents, they estimated, $18,866 per person that wasn’t counted, times 10 years. That is a lot of money that we didn’t have come our way that we were entitled to.”

Phillips said is it often the populations that are difficult to count that rely on the programs the census helps determine funds for.

“Some of those very undercounted populations are the ones that rely on these services the most, whether it’s you’re homeless or you’re separated or you’re in transient housing, and they’re the hardest to find, but they need these services,” Phillips said. “So it’s really important that we’re trying to reach out to all of those communities to make sure that we get those people counted and help them with these programs.”

Phillips and Bleak both emphasized that all information collected by the U.S. Census Bureau for the 2020 Census is kept confidential – and that confidentiality is taken seriously, no information with be shared with any other government agencies.

According to a media specialist for the Census Bureau in the state of Utah, violating Title 13 is a federal crime, resulting in a fine of not more than $250,000 and/or imprisonment up to five years. (see Ed. note)

Bleak also stressed the importance of counting the student population within the county, because individuals are counted based on where they are on April 1, 2020.

“It’s going to be really important for us to try and get an accurate count of our student population,” Bleak said. “The amount of money and the number of grants available is going to be largely based on the population and its that population that’s using those service so it’s really important that we capture that population.”

A screenshot from the 2020 Census website, 2020census.gov, providing an example of one of the questions asked, March 13, 2020 | Photo by Kelsey Cooke, St George News / Cedar City News

Phillips stressed there is no question of citizenship on the census — the questionnaire only asks a few questions regarding the number of people in a home on April 1, basic information such as age and gender of those people and whether the home is owned or rented.

“If census taker, or anyone comes to your dwelling or your residence and asks for a social security number, or your party affiliation, or asks for money or donations, or asks for any kind of individual banking information — they are not from the US Census Bureau,” Phillips said. “So please do not respond to them and report them to the local authorities.”

Phillips also explained the 2020 Census will be taken online this year for the first time, but residents will receive letters and post cards with reminders. Around the second week of May, census takers will visit people’s homes in an effort to make sure every person is counted.

Bleak said census takers’ safety is also being taken into consideration, as Iron County authorities have arrested several individuals hiding in western Iron County, including some from the FBI’s most wanted list. In some cases, a sheriff’s deputy or even an FBI agent may accompany census takers in more rural areas of the county.

“They’re also taking the safety of the census takers very seriously,” Bleak said.

Phillips and Bleak are serving as liaisons between Iron County, Cedar City and the U.S. Census Bureau to help ensure the most accurate count possible and work with community members on the most effective and efficient ways to count all residents of the county.

The census will be completed by July 31st, and the U.S. Census Bureau will be required to present the official counts to Congress in December.

According to the 2020 Census website, the census determines how many seats each state gets in Congress, how more than $675 million dollars in federal funding is distributed throughout the country and creates jobs, provides housing, helps communities prepare for emergencies and build schools, roads and hospitals.

Census takers are still needed in Iron County as well, which offers part-time, flexible work for the summer.

For more information, visit the census website: 2020census.gov.

Ed. note: This report has been revised to correctly reflect the punishments for releasing confidential 2020 Census information.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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