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Census response map shows lags as field operations restart

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

About 1.4 million Alabama households have turned in their 2020 census forms, a state self-response rate of 56.7% compared to a national rate of 58.6%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

State agencies are now putting extra effort in those parts of the state where responses are lagging. A swath of Black Belt and southern counties, and a few in north Alabama, are trailing in mail-in, Internet and telephone replies, according to a map maintained by the Census Bureau. Early this week, Coosa County in central Alabama had the lowest return rate at 26.6 percent. The response rate data is based on 2018 and 2019 population estimates.

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Census kickoff efforts in March and April got off to a slow start because of the coronavirus.

“Many community events designed to make it easy to self-respond were postponed or canceled,” Mikey Presley, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, told Alabama Daily News. “Also, the Census Bureau suspended their field operations in Alabama in mid-March, leading to delays in hand-delivery of census packets to households that receive mail by PO Box including parts of Coosa, Perry and other rural counties.”

The Census Bureau last week announced a restart in about two dozens cities across the nation, including Birmingham, Huntsville and Mobile.  

 “The Census Bureau notified us last week that those operations were resuming with workers using personal protective gear and leaving the packets at the doorsteps of those homes,” Presley said.

Alabama had a 72% response rate to the census 10 years ago. State officials have said they want more than 72% this year to ensure billions in federal funding for dozens of state and community programs and to secure the state’s seven congressional seats.

“Ensuring that Alabama’s 7th Congressional District is counted during the 2020 Census continues to be one of my top priorities,” Congresswoman Terri Sewell told Alabama Daily News Tuesday about the district that includes several Black Belt Counties. “Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has added additional challenges to this endeavor, especially given the fact that many parts of our district have limited access to broadband; however, I am committed to finding ways to meet people where they are. An accurate census count is crucial for the future of our district, our communities and our children. I will continue working hard to make sure that every person throughout our district is counted.”

Alabama’s slow population growth is putting a congressional seat at risk.

Congressional districts are allocated not strictly on our population, but on the state’s population relative to the other states’ population, according to an October 2019 report from the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama.

Since 2010, the state’s population has increased by about 2.3%. Every southeastern state except Mississippi outpaced that growth.

Nationally, 34 states grew faster than Alabama between 2010 and 2018, led by Utah, Texas, Florida, Colorado, and North Dakota, which have grown more than 13 percent, according to PARCA.

Presley said ADECA has multiple efforts to reach residents in lower-responding areas, including commissioning phone banking efforts in Clarke, Conecuh, Dale, Dallas, Coosa, Barbour, Marengo, Hale, Henry, Pike and Choctaw counties. 

“We know some of our grant partners, including the Black Belt Community Foundation, are undertaking similar efforts in additional counties during this time when face-to-face interaction is limited,” Presley said.

The Department is also supporting several local and regional efforts through the Alabama Counts 2020 Census Grant program. We are working on an extension of the grant program to Aug. 14 to account for the extended time period of the census, Presley said.

Census workers won’t start knocking on doors of people who haven’t answered the questionnaire until August, the Associated Press reported last month. The bureau pushed back the deadline to wrap up the count from the end of July to the end of October.

Congress must approve the Census Bureau’s request to delay turning over redistricting data to the states from the end of March 2021 to the end of July 2021, the AP reported.

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