A local initiative to achieve an accurate 2020 U.S. Census in Hubbard County officially began this week.

The Hubbard County complete count committee held its first meeting on Wednesday.

The U.S. Census Bureau describes a complete count committee as a group of volunteers who serve as “census ambassadors” and “play an integral part in ensuring a complete and accurate count of the community.” The committee’s goal is to increase awareness and motivate residents to respond to the 2020 Census.

Federal and state funding – and potentially a Congressional seat – is at stake.

“It’s just leaving an incredible pot of money on the table to do the things that need to be done here,” said Florence Hedeen with the League of Women Voters of the Park Rapids Area. “Every person counts.”

Hedeen is serving on the complete count committee with Hubbard County Commissioner Tom Krueger, Park Rapids City Council Member Tom Conway, City Planner Andrew Mack and Nancy Carroll.

The committee is creating an action plan to reach out to hard-to-count communities and address any misconceptions. They will be enlisting help from schools, faith communities, property managers, social services, businesses, individuals and others.

For example, children are one of the categories typically undercounted. “So daycares are tremendously important in encouraging families to make sure they’ve counted all of their children,” Hedeen said. “It’s critically important that we effectively communicate with the hard-to-count community.”

Another hard-to-count category are tech-savvy, very mobile young people and those who distrust the government.

“What we can do is make sure the message is out there how important every person is in the count,” Hedeen said.

For the first time, the census may be completed online, by phone or by mail.

Federal law prevents census information from being shared with immigration enforcement agencies or law enforcement agencies, nor is it allowed to determine eligibility for government benefits. More information is at www.census.gov.

Going to the school board

Tim Flathers, executive director of the Headwaters Regional Development Commission, gave the Park Rapids School Board an overview Monday of why it is important for Minnesota and Hubbard County to get an accurate count in the 2020 Census.

Noting that the census is used to apportion the nation’s 435 Congressional seats, he recalled that Minnesota was one of the states at risk of losing a Congressional seat in 2010. “We just squeaked by,” he said. “We are at greater risk in 2020.”

Flathers noted that northern Minnesota’s 7th and 8th districts are already so large that Rep. Colin Peterson (DFL-Dist. 7) can only get around his district by airplane.

“We’re right on the bubble,” he said. “It could be that if we do a really effective job counting people, we are not necessarily a lost cause.”

Meanwhile, the 2020 Census will also be used to redraw state House and Senate districts. “We have been – you probably feel this – we’ve been losing our political clout to the Twin Cities area because they’ve been growing at a much greater rate than we have,” said Flathers. “That may continue, but to the extent that we can effectively count people that might be harder to count, we can maybe counter that slightly.”

Mack pointed out that the census count provides data that government agencies and businesses need to do strategic planning.

Flathers also mentioned federal and state funding formulas that are keyed to census data.

Meantime, he noted, the Park Rapids area has many traits that make it hard to get a complete count.

“What makes people hard to count?” said Flathers. “Well, if you have areas that have a lot of vacant housing units, a lot of multi-family housing units, more renters vs. owner-occupied units, units that have a large number of people in them, a whole host of different things. The comment I would make on this is, when I looked at this, what it said to me was, this sort of defines us. We have all of those things.”

For example, he said, “Park Rapids has a 50 percent rental rate. Park Rapids has a lot of multi-family housing units. We have a lot of people below poverty, a lot of people on public assistance, a lot of people that might speak English as a second language. Those are all people that the Census Bureau is telling us are, by definition, harder to count. Those are the people that we need to find ways to get to.”

Hedeen urged the school board to provide a representative on the local complete count committee. She said training by a member of the U.S. Census Bureau is planned for September.

Hedeen again stressed the importance of reaching the hard-to-count community.

“I guess the first thing that really hit me was when the county board noted that 53 percent of the population that we really know about in our county was actually counted in 2010,” she said. “Forty-seven percent had not been counted by their own initiative. Another 4 percent were added to that number when the enumerators, the people going door to door, came here to get people in.”

Adding that each person counted in 2010 represented $15,320 in federal and state funding, she concluded, “We have a very vested interest in reaching out to everyone and making sure that we have a complete count.”

County lends its support

On Tuesday, Hedeen thanked the county board for its support of the complete count committee.

“We will be meeting and we will be developing the plan to help the county increase the amount of money that actually comes in through federal sources,” she said.

The county board passed a resolution of support, which states “an accurate census is essential for the allocation of representatives with the legislative bodies of the U.S. House of Representative, the Minnesota State Legislature and within Hubbard County, townships and municipalities.”

The population totals from the census determine the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives. States also use the totals to redraw their legislative and school districts.

It continues, “Correct apportionment of federal dollars for health, education, transportation, child and elder care, emergency preparation and response, public and social support programs of all kinds depend on complete and accurate age, population and other ethnic and demographic information gathered every 10 years.”

The board also sent a letter to Marilyn Sanders at the Chicago Regional Census Center stating the county’s intent to work with the U.S. Census Bureau “for an accurate, efficient and cost-effective count in 2020.” In addition to creating a complete count committee, the county vowed to assist in recruiting applicants for census jobs by hosting an applicant day, sharing flyers and general census information.