State leaders are sending out a new plea to Alabamians to make sure everyone is counted in the upcoming 2020 Census.

Every 10 years in the United States, a census is conducted to count every person living in the country. 

It’s required by the U.S. Constitution and the numbers impact communities in a variety of ways.

Local, county and state leaders have stressed this could be the most important census in the state’s history.

“What is at stake is $13 billion to the state of Alabama,” Alabama Department of Economic and Development Affairs (ADECA) director Kenneth Boswell said. “It impacts education, infrastructure, healthcare. To give you some examples of that, almost $3.9 Billion in Medicaid in 2016, $230 million in Title 1 education funds, and $797 million for highway planning and construction.”

Beyond how much federal money flows back to Alabama based on 2020 Census numbers, he said the state could lose a congressional seat in Washington D.C., and possibly two.

“Our representation at the Federal level is at stake,” Boswell said. “If we participate like we did in 2010 with a 72% response rate, we are projected to lose a congressional representative. If we drop below 72% we stand a chance of losing two seats.”

Boswell said he is not satisfied with the current responses.

“Although the state self-response rate as of May 19 was 57.9%, Elmore County and Wetumpka, in general, are doing fairly well.”

The response rate in Elmore County is 63.4% and Wetumpka’s response rate is 64.8% as of May 19.

“Although those sound like good numbers, we have to get those up some shape, form or fashion,” he said. 

Boswell thinks Alabama’s response rate is hovering just above 50% statewide because people mistrust the federal government. 

“I think it’s the fear of the federal government being in people’s business,” he said.

He said the 2020 Census does not ask probing questions like what was asked in previous censuses.

“This time, the federal government made it easier and did not use questions that are leading or asking any financial questions,” he said. “It’s just basic demographic questions and has nothing to do with financial questions. The 2020 Census is totally non offensive and it is nothing more than gathering basic demographic information.”

According to information released by the state, every Alabamian counted in the 2010 Census brought $16,000 back to Alabama in the form of federal programs like school lunches, Pell grants, SNAP-Ed, educational programs and grants, senior programs, head start and improvements for roads and bridges.

Boswell said the federal government uses the data from the census for legislative decisions such as the recent CARES Act.

“You can tie the CARES Act back to funding and representation,” he said. “Both are dependent on one another. Everyone I know received a stimulus check.”

He said representation plays a big part in how much federal money a state receives.

“We have to have appropriate representation to take our Alabama voice to Washington D.C.,” he said. “Think of how that representation impacts us. There is $1.8 billion sent to the state for the governor to redistribute to schools, hospitals and government. That’s very much a way that representation and dollars are related.”

Part of that money is used to maintain roads in the state.

“There’s not one of us who does not want good streets and safe roads from the standpoint of being paved and in good condition,” Boswell said. “The state legislature recently passed the gas tax. That money is distributed based on the Census. If you participate at a lower level in the 2020 Census your dollars will be lower than they were based on the 2010 Census. People need to be mindful of that and think about when you’re driving on those streets.”

Whether or not to reply to the census is a decision that lasts for 10 years, Boswell said. 

“People need to ask that question of themselves,” he said. “Do you want to stand the chance of losing federal dollars coming in to the state that would otherwise use those dollars for programs and projects they’d like to see come to fruition? If they don’t, are they willing to take the chance of a local leader or state leader to increase the taxes to make up the difference? I know I don’t.”

The extended deadline to reply to the census is October 31. Responses may be submitted online at mycensus2020.gov, by calling 844-330-2020 or via paper questionnaire that will be sent to homes that have yet to respond to the census.

“Let’s say they have not received an invitation to take the 2020 Census, just go online to my2020census.gov, type in your address and it should pull up your information and you can start the process immediately,” Boswell said. “I can tell you for a fact, it takes less than six minutes to take the census.”